MLB.com Columnist

Terence Moore

GM Williams' brilliance keeps White Sox surprising

Moore: Williams' brilliance keeps White Sox surprising

The more you look at the Chicago White Sox, the more you shake your head before frowning and saying to yourself: Huh? Are these guys really in first place in the American League Central?

It doesn't make sense.

Actually, it does.

It's Kenny Williams being Kenny Williams, because he is spending another season tucked away in the shadows as the general manager and miracle worker of the White Sox. He has this knack for doing all sorts of unorthodox things to make the White Sox relevant out of nowhere.

There was that Williams-constructed bunch that swept its way through the World Series seven years ago, and remember: This is a franchise that never has been noted for capturing anything of significance -- especially World Series championships.

Even so, here is another one of Williams' wonderful concoctions threatening to make his peers uncomfortable in October. Let's just say that nobody ever would confuse these White Sox with the 1927 Yankees or even the 2012 Yankees. Their hitting is mediocre when compared to the rest of the American League, and so is their pitching.

Speaking of pitching, the White Sox rotation is a mess, and it's not because of a heavy dependence on first-year starters Jose Quintana and Chris Sale. It's because of physical issues. They've been everywhere throughout the rotation this year, and they continue.

With the departure of long-time ace Mark Buehrle before the season, John Danks was his designated replacement. Instead, Danks has been on the disabled list since the beginning of the season.

Other White Sox starters, such as Gavin Floyd and Philip Humber haven't been the healthiest, either.

To make things worse for the White Sox, Sale suddenly is bothered by a "dead arm," and he is expected to leave the rotation for the next few days in an attempt to rest it.

When Sale goes, he'll take his 12 victories with him.

Not good for the White Sox. Still, they have their miracle worker, and after searching the last few days, Williams maneuvered to grab Francisco Liriano from the Minnesota Twins.

Liriano han't been much since he evolved into a left-handed All-Star sensation in 2006. Elbow surgery followed, along with years of inconsistency through much of this season. Now he comes to the White Sox after ending his Twins career with a 3-10 record this season, 5.31 ERA and control problems. He's only 28, though, and it was just two years ago when he managed 14 victories.

This could be vintage Williams -- a gamble, but a decent one. And the way things often go for this guy, it could be a splendid one.

Take Tuesday night, when Liriano made his first start for the White Sox against his old team in Minnesota. During the first six innings of a 4-3 victory, Liriano allowed the Twins just four hits and two runs and struck out eight.

As for the hitting, Williams banked on Alex Rios rebounding from an ugly 2011 in which he batted .223. The results? Rios has a .313 average, and he already has more home runs now (16) than he did last season (13).

It also helped that Williams worked a June trade to pry Kevin Youkilis away from the Boston Red Sox. Plus, Dunn was a high-salaried bust for Williams last season. Now Dunn is part of this oddity for the White Sox: He is hitting .213, but he leads the Major Leagues in home runs with 31.

Don't ask. And don't bother trying to determine how the White Sox are prospering despite Williams hiring a manager before the season in former White Sox player Robin Ventura who had never coached or managed before at the pro level.

There's more. Lots more to make you wonder if everything the White Sox are doing right now is part of a crazy dream.

Then you look at the White Sox's miracle worker of the past 12 seasons, and just like that, it makes sense.

"A lot of people didn't think we would be in this position right now, and if we just kind of look at it from that standpoint, we're in a nice spot as we head into August here, whether it's a game and a half up or a game and a half back," Williams told reporters last week. "Ultimately, you've got to close it out anyway. Is it nice to be in first place and chased? Absolutely. But it's our time to do a little chasing right now."

Chasing. Leading.

The fact that these White Sox actually are doing either of those things is shocking.

Even Williams suggested to reporters before the season that the White Sox were entering a "growth" period. He was projecting 2013 or 2014 as their time for reaching the next level. After all, he joined the rest of the free world in anticipating that Ventura would need at least a year to learn how to manage.

You know the rest. Williams' gut feeling to hire Ventura for the White Sox already has genius written all over it.

Then again, Williams has been here before.

Prior to the 2004 season, Williams shocked baseball by selecting the rather blunt-speaking Ozzie Guillen to be manager. Unlike Ventura, Guillen had coached in the Major Leagues. Just like Ventura, Guillen had never managed at any level.

The results were Ventura-quick.

With much help from Williams acquiring the likes of Jermaine Dye, A.J. Pierzynski, Freddy Garcia and others, Guillen led the 2005 White Sox to their first pennant since 1959. Days later, they swept their way to the franchise's first World Series title since 1917.

The White Sox remained competitive or better in the aftermath, but Guillen and Williams slowly became as distant as the Atlantic is to the Pacific. Too many controversies involving Guillen. It led to Williams releasing Guillen from his White Sox contract last year to allow Guillen to sign with the Miami Marlins.

So Williams replaced the volatile Guillen with the soothing Ventura, and among other things, the White Sox spent last weekend on the road nearly sweeping a Texas Rangers team that ranks with the game's best.

Keep quiet about all of this, though.

Williams prefers silence.

Easier to surprise folks when they're not looking.

Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.