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Wednesday, March 30, 2005; Page H11

The White Sox tied for the major league lead with 242 homers last season, but it got them no better than second place in the AL Central, their third straight runner-up finish. So, out went franchise player Magglio Ordoñez and homer-happy Carlos Lee; in came fleet-footed Scott Podsednik, Tadahito Iguchi and Tim Raines Sr.

Well, okay . . . Raines, one of the greatest base-stealers of all time, is merely the team's new base running coach. But his hiring underscores the team's new strategy of trying to become more well-rounded, less one-dimensional.

Podsednik, whom the White Sox acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers for Lee, had nearly as many stolen bases in 2004 (70) as the entire White Sox team (78). He'll bat leadoff, with Japanese import Iguchi, a second baseman, batting either second or ninth (as a "secondary" leadoff man).

Indeed, the White Sox will have considerably more speed and considerably less power this season, with Ordoñez having departed via free agency and with Frank Thomas out until at least mid-May with a broken ankle.

They averted a major crisis during the spring when ace Mark Buehrle's left foot injury was determined to be minor -- putting him on track to make his Opening Day start, as opposed to initial reports that indicated he could miss the first six weeks of the season.

But Buehrle and number two starter Freddy Garcia are about the only sure things in a rotation that also includes New York Yankees castoffs Jose Contreras and Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, plus eternal underachiever Jon Garland.

It used to be surprising every September when the White Sox finished behind the smaller-market Minnesota Twins. But those days are past. Now, it's almost a given.

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