TUCSON, Ariz. -- To really know Ozzie Guillen is to love him.
Brash, bold, brutally honest, but extremely sincere, Guillen will never win any sensitivity awards in this lifetime.
Talking awards? That's a different story. Guillen's rhetoric is a mile-a-minute and his subjects (victims) of conversation range from the young kids on his roster to his own kids at home. Name it and he'll likely have an opinion on it.
He usually means no harm, but he's not shy and he has no fear of losing his job -- ever.
So imagine my surprise when the topic of the American League Central wonderland came up and he clammed up for a second, smiling like The Cheshire Cat.
It was a first. It was not an accident. Guillen believes he knows something we don't.
"Ozzie, everybody seems to be talking about every other team in the division, and nobody is talking about the White Sox."
"Good," he said.
"Are you guys going to surprise some people this year?"
There was silence. Then Guillen smiled. Then he changed the subject.
"Talent helps to win games, but that's not always the case," he said. "If you look at the American League teams, they are loaded. This game will be decided by pitching, because everybody has a strong lineup. Whoever pitches better and stays healthy will have a better shot."
Aha! There's the key. As talkative as Guillen is, was, and will always be, he is going to let his pitching do the talking for him this year. Good idea. Once upon a time in 2005, Jose Contreras, Mark Buehrle, Freddy Garcia, Jon Garland, Orlando Hernandez and a cast of other strong hurlers led the club to a World Series title.
Is Guillen predicting a World Series title in 2008? No. He's too smart for that. He does suggest that the division won't be a runaway for the Tigers or Indians without saying a thing. Look at his staff, and it's easy to see why he is optimistic his club will be able to pitch in 2008.
In other words, why his club will be able to win in 2008.
Buehrle is back as the staff ace and Javier Vazquez is back in the No. 2 spot in the rotation. Contreras is in the No. 4 spot, in between youngsters John Danks and Gavin Floyd.
Closer Bobby Jenks is back to lead a revamped bullpen that now includes Octavio Dotel and Scott Linebrink. The reinforcements could not come at a better time. The bullpen needed help when you consider it finished 12th in the American League with a 5.47 ERA last season during a horrid stretch from May 8 to July 23, the relievers went 3-14 with a 7.46 ERA. From Aug. 24 to Sept. 30, the White Sox bullpen posted a 4-7 record and a 6.77 ERA in 90 1/3 innings.
The bullpen will be better in 2008. Guillen knows so, and he'll say it. He just won't brag about it -- yet.
"I have three legit starters and then some questions on how the young kids will do," Guillen said. "There are only one or two teams in baseball that has five [solid starters], like the Boston Red Sox. Our bullpen is pretty strong. We added a couple of guys who can help us [in Linebrink and Dotel]."
Add shortstop Orlando Cabrera, outfielder Nick Swisher and infielder Alexei Ramirez and the White Sox just might have the talent along with the pitching they need to surprise a couple of teams -- Detroit and Cleveland -- and naysayers -- almost everyone outside the organization.
Just don't expect to hear much from the boisterous Guillen about it now. At least not yet. But once the real games begin, his opinion and thoughts will be heard. He firmly believes the White Sox are a playoff contender.
"I like my ballclub. Some people don't like it, but that's baseball," Guillen said. "That's why people have different opinions. I am happy with what I have, and I feel good about this ballclub. Hopefully we can play the way we want to and win some ballgames. I think we should be in the pennant race."
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.