2015 MLB Farewells: Chicago White Sox

It is that part of the year when pennant race positioning becomes the priority for some, while an early look to the next spring is the forced reality for others. It is a chance to book better winter destination vacations for some, emptier seats for most and a chance for reflection for all.

Who should win the World Series? The Nationals. No other team can match Washington for pitching and hitting depth. Who will win the World Series? Well, that’s proven to be a bit trickier in the modern playoffs. I’m standing with the Chicago White Sox though. Chris Sale still doesn’t get the national attention he deserves, and with Jeff Samardzija and Jose Quintana behind him, the pitching staff features a formidable top three. And that lineup is sneaky good. I expect Jose Abreu to lead the American League in home runs and the Chi-Sox to win the World Series 10 years after they ended an 88-year drought.- Dillon Friday, April 2015

Here’s a fact that might surprise you: The Chicago White Sox have played in exactly two World Series since the Black Sox Scandal of 1919. The Go-Go Sox lost in 1959 to the newly minted Los Angeles Dodgers before Ozzie Guillen’s 2005 club delivered Chicago’s first title in 88 years.

That’s a pretty pitiful record and one that reflects the White Sox’ standing in baseball. They are Chicago’s second team as well the second-most popular team with “Sox” in their nickname. It should be said both of the franchises ahead of them in those categories — the Cubs and Boston — have or had title droughts that stretch to the early 20th century with more cleverly-named curses to boot.

We sort of forget about the White Sox even if our most famous citizen is their most famous fan. And yet nothing stopped me from buying Chi-Sox stock last spring. I thought the South-siders would be sneaky good this season in a way that their stars, this side of Frank Thomas, are always sneaky good.

In Chris Sale, they had a bona fide ace, perhaps the second-best left-hander in baseball behind Clayton Kershaw. They added Jeff Samaradzija to bolster the staff, a righty who struck out 202 batters in 2014 while sporting a 2.99 ERA. David Robertson joined the bullpen off a 39-save campaign with the Yankees. 2014 American League Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu, who mashed 36 home runs and finished fourth in MVP voting a year ago, returned to a lineup rich in contact but short on pop.

Throw in a young, improving manager in Robin Ventura and a wide-open AL Central, and the White Sox became a trendy pick in the Junior Circuit.

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Where It Went Wrong

It’s easy to look at a 72-80 team, one perhaps 10 close games from being in contention, and blame the marquee offseason acquisition for its struggles. Indeed, Samaradjiza has disappointed in what will surely be his only season on the South Side of Chicago. He’s 10-13 as of this writing and has given up more earned-runs, 116, than any pitcher in the American League.

But it’s the offense that has been the source of the White Sox’ downfall. Chicago ranks dead last in the AL with a paltry .383 slugging percentage. That number could be much worse considering Abreu is slugging .511 by himself.

Sale (259 strikeouts), Jose Quintana (a team-best 3.48 ERA) and 22-year-old rookie Carlos Rondon (3.78 ERA, 135 k’s in 133.1 innings) have all pitched well. They just haven’t received any run support, a common occurrence that likely played a part in Sale’s rough patch in the late summer.

A 16-10 July gave President Obama and the rest of the fans hope, but the club entered the month nine games below .500. But with the Royals surging and the Twins hanging around, Chicago had too many teams to catch and not enough time.

Where It Crashed And Burned

Tuesday, September 15th. Samardjiza took the mound against the punchless Oakland A’s and promptly got shelled. He lasted three innings and gave up 10 runs. In a season of disappointment, neither team nor player had experienced such a low. The White Sox lost 17-6 that day and 12-1 to the Indians less than a week later.

Never mind that Samardjiza tossed a shutout in his next start. The damage had been done. His greatest contribution to the Chi-Sox might have been a few punches in an early-season brawl with the Royals.

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Where do they go from here

Given that Chicago at least has a playoff caliber core — Sale, Quintana, Rondon, Abreu and center fielder Adam Eaton — it’s likely that GM Rick Hahn hands Ventura a pink slip this offseason. The former third baseman has delivered one winning campaign in four at the helm of the White Sox.

The good news is that any manager the club brings in will inherit a young pitching staff capable of winning any four-game series by itself. The bad news is he’ll still have a lineup that severely lacks power. Chicago is always a willing player in free agency — see last winter — but each name at the top of the 2016 class carries question marks.

A Justin Upton or a Jason Heyward would be an upgrade regardless of where you play them. Each, however, has struggled with consistency since cracking everyday rosters as phenoms. Heyward, 26, and Upton, 28, would be headed to their third and fourth franchises, respectively if they were added.

Or do the White Sox go all in on pitching? They tried to last year with the Samardjiza trade. Then again, potential FA’s David Price, Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmerman and Zach Greinke all have more pedigree than the former Notre Dame wide out.

At any rate, there’s no need to start the rebuild process. With the right move, Chicago could move into the postseason picture prior to 2016 spring training. A World Series ring, 99 years after the Black Sox rigged the 1919 Fall Classic, would make for a lovely parting gift for President Obama.

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