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AMERICAN LEAGUE: Big years expected from a pair of Sox

- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Be it Red or White, this should be a good summer to play for the Sox.

All-Stars Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez wound up in Boston. Adam Dunn picked Chicago, plus Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski decided to stick around.

"They did a great job getting players," slugger David Ortiz said of his Red Sox. "This is a tough division to play at, and you definitely want to go out there and get whatever you can, whatever's available, and that's what they did. So it all depends on us now."

Konerko, beginning his 13th season with the White Sox, echoed that sentiment.

"We certainly have what we need in every area - starters, bullpen, lineup," he said. "We have what we need, it's just a matter of coming together as a team and executing. That's easier said than done, and you have to stay healthy on top of it."

All that, and that's not even mentioning the four teams that actually made the AL playoffs last season - the champion Texas Rangers, New York Yankees, Tampa Bay and Minnesota.

Health could be the biggest question in Boston, where 2008 AL MVP Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and Jacoby Ellsbury are coming back from serious injuries. But the Red Sox landed the speedy Crawford with a $142 million, seven-year contract and traded for Gonzalez, giving them an upgraded lineup to pair with their deep rotation.

The Red Sox finished third in the AL East in 2010, unable to keep up with the first-place Rays and wild-card Yankees. Those teams aren't planning on backing up, and Toronto and Baltimore should be better, too.

So while Boston is much improved, there are plenty of potential challengers within its division - and beyond.

"Like I always said, our division is the toughest in baseball," Yankees captain Derek Jeter said.

The Central could get into the act this season with its own three-team race. Minnesota is seeking its third straight division title, Detroit signed dangerous switch-hitter Victor Martinez and Chicago added Dunn to its strong core.

"Looking at the Twins over the years, they're always going to be competitive," said Jim Thome, who opted to return to Minnesota in January instead of signing with the AL champion Rangers. "Look at what the White Sox and Tigers have done; they've upped their teams, too. It should be a fun, fun division."

The White Sox got off to a difficult start last year, moved into first place at midseason and stumbled down the stretch while the Twins surged into the playoffs.

Chicago responded with an offseason spending spree that rivaled the Red Sox, adding Dunn's big bat, shoring up its bullpen and bringing back team leaders Konerko and Pierzynski. Now even manager Ozzie Guillen and general manager Kenny Williams are getting along again.

"The Central is going to be tough, Central goes down to the wire every year," White Sox pitcher John Danks said. "If it doesn't come down to the wire, it will be a rarity."

Texas ran away with the West in 2010 on the way to the pennant. AL MVP Josh Hamilton is back, but the Rangers could be pushed by improving Oakland and the Los Angeles Angels.

Of course, a major injury or trade could jumble any one of the divisions, setting the stage for another wild season.

"The American League in general, the last couple years, has been really good," Konerko said. "Even the teams that were last place in each division were tougher than usual. There's no pushover."

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