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Same Old Situation: White Sox Midseason Review

By Benjy Lipsman in News on Jul 17, 2015 4:32PM

The White Sox kicked off the second half of the season feting the 2005 World Series championship team. Which may be the only way a World Series is celebrated at U.S. Cellular Field anytime soon.

White Sox management opened up the purse strings over the winter in hopes of returning the team to contention in the competitive AL Central. Instead, the team again finds itself mired in the basement of the division with a 41-45 record at the All-Star Break. While the team has played better of late—winning 9 of 12 games heading into the break—manager Robin Ventura remains very much on the hot seat, and we wouldn't be surprised to see Rick Hahn start unloading players in coming weeks.

In the off-season, the team addressed most of its biggest weaknesses by adding closer David Robertson, starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija, slugger Adam LaRoche and outfielder Melky Cabrera, in addition to bolstering their middle relief. But thus far, the team has not seen a return on that investment.

The offense has sputtered, with the team ranked at or near the bottom of the MLB in batting average, home runs, and runs scored. The team's tally of 292 runs is the lowest in the majors. Their 60 home runs are just three more than the worst team in baseball. And their .241 team batting average is among the worst as well. Almost every Sox regular owns the worst WAR at his position among qualifying players, or is close enough to fall into last. Only Jose Abreu is having a decent season, with a .296 batting average, 14 home runs and 46 RBI, but that's still well off his rookie season pace. New additions LaRoche and Cabrera have disappointed, as have last year's additions Adam Eaton and Avasail Garcia.

The White Sox's pitching has been better than their hitting, led by ace Chris Sale. An All-Star yet again, Sale is 8-4 with a 2.72 ERA and has struck out 157 in 119 innings. His streak of 8 straight games with 10 or more strikeouts tied a modern record. Fourteen of his 17 starts have been quality starts. Jose Quintana has as many quality starts as Sale in just one more overall turns on the mound, but he sports a 4-9 record in spite of a 3.69 ERA, which shows how lack of run support can kill a pitcher's record.

Jeff Samardzija has been somewhat disappointing, with an ERA north of 4.00 and a 6-4 record. In the final year of his deal when acquired by Chicago, he's the most likely to go should the Sox start selling players. But rookie Carlos Rodon has looked promising thus far.

While Sale spent a whole year coming out of the 'pen upon his promotion to "the Show," Rodon made just three relief appearances before being plugged into the rotation. With a 3-2 record and 3.80 ERA in 11 starts, he's looked good in most of his starts but gotten roughed up a couple times, and needs to cut down on his walks.

John Danks has been the bust at the back of the rotation, rarely looking like the pitcher he was before his 2012 injury. Team ERA is middle of the pack at 3.90 and the team is near the top with 53 quality starts. But lack of run support means that even when the team pitches well, the team still ends up on the short end of the box score all too often.

After competing until the final week of the 2012 season in Robin Ventura's rookie season as manager, the White Sox have mostly slid backward in the AL Central standings since. After winning just 136 games over the next two seasons, his team is on pace to win 77 this year. Is it time to change things up? As much as we liked Ventura as a player and respect him as a manager, he just isn't getting the performance from this team that he should be. So Kenny Williams and Rick Hahn had better be compiling their list of possible replacements, even as they publicly give him their full support.

But as the Tribune's Steve Rosenbloom rightly stated recently, much of that lack of performance is on the players. And all too often, lack of production by players results in a manager becoming the scapegoat. So if the season if truly down the drain, we do expect to see some players shipped elsewhere.

From this team's roster, only Abreu, Sale and Rodon appear untouchable. The rest are all potential trade bait as the team looks to retool. Given his track record and contract status, Jeff Samardzija is the most likely piece to move. As a free agent come season's end, many teams in contention would like a front line starter who can be had for cheap. But who else is even that attractive to the teams who'll be shopping for the missing piece come the end of July?

On the other hand, the White Sox have shown some signs of life the past couple weeks. They've won four series in a row, and 9 of their past 12 games. A couple more weeks of play at that level, and perhaps they can make a late surge. As bad as they've been so far this season, they are only 5 1/2 games out of the wild card hunt. The next two weeks will determine whether they try and fight for the postseason in 2015 or wave the white flag and look to next year.