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White Sox face uncertainty in second half of season

White Sox face uncertainty in second half of season

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White Sox face uncertainty in second half of season

CHICAGO -- It was a straightforward question about post-All-Star break White Sox expectations delivered to Rick Hahn, who always has provided straightforward answers during his tenure as assistant general manager and now general manager.

On this occasion, with Hahn sitting in a suite at Comerica Park a few days before the first half came to a close, his response was a bit more cryptic.

Club breakdowns
First-half highlights

"We'll get there," said Hahn with a smile.

Cryptic might not be the right word to describe Hahn's aforementioned thought. How about certain uncertainty?

With the dismal 37-55 results coming from the first 92 games, a White Sox team that was thought to be a postseason contender now has to make in-season adjustments. These adjustments mean the current roster should have a different look by the non-waiver Trade Deadline on July 31, and also means that it's all but impossible for Hahn to assess expectations for his team over the next 70 games.

Loud whispers turned into reality on July 12, when veteran reliever Matt Thornton was moved to the Red Sox for 22-year-old outfield prospect Brandon Jacobs. If Hahn decides to go for the wholesale rebuild, with interest in right-handed relievers Matt Lindstrom and Jesse Crain, outfielder Alex Rios and starters Jake Peavy and John Danks, then the second-half focus still falls upon winning as many games as possible, but also has a strong developmental influence.

Basically, the first-half debacle put the team in a hole where the climb to escape might take a while.

First-half awards
MVP: JESSE CRAIN Chris Sale has a better WAR, but even Sale would admit Crain has had the biggest effect on the White Sox limited first-half success.
Cy Young: CHRIS SALE Don't look at his won-loss record. Sale has been as good, if not better, than his 2012 All-Star season.
Rookie: CONOR GILLASPIE He quickly moved from a bench component to the starting third baseman with great defense and solid hitting after coming over from the Giants.
Top reliever: CRAIN With a 29-game scoreless streak, Crain might be the AL's best reliever overall in the season's first half.

What went wrong from April to mid-July? Pretty much name it, and manager Robin Ventura's crew dealt with it.

Injuries knocked out Gavin Floyd for the season, knocked out Peavy, Danks, left fielder Dayan Viciedo, first baseman Paul Konerko and second baseman Gordon Beckham for large chunks of time and even sent Crain to the disabled list and caused Chris Sale to miss a start. The offense, which finished fourth in the AL in runs scored in 2012, ranks 12th or lower in five separate categories.

And the fundamental side of the game, intangibles such as defense and baserunning where the White Sox were the best in baseball last season, completely disappeared through the first half of 2013. The White Sox weren't short on talent, but they were bad and had the luck to match.

"There's no way -- if someone would have told me this was going to be our record on July … whatever it is, I would have laughed at them," said Thornton before he moved from the bottom of the AL Central to the top of the AL East. "Were we going to be in first place at this point? Possibly, but we knew it would be tough with Cleveland and their improvements and how good Detroit is and Kansas City got so much better.

"It was going to be a grind throughout the season. Never did I ever see this coming, to be in a position we are in now."

On-field positives and hope for the future weren't completely missing from this struggle-filled stretch.

Beckham seems to have found the confidence and consistent approach at the plate to match his slick glove work in the field. Danks put together four straight quality starts to close out the first half, as he puts behind him the season-ending arthroscopic shoulder surgery from last August. Sale was selected as an All-Star for a second straight year and continued to establish himself as one of the AL's top starters, while the rotation as a whole performed consistently at or above lofty expectations.

Players to watch in second half
GORDON BECKHAM He's playing with more confidence as a player overall, especially offensively. He needs to carry it through the rest of the season for a complete step forward.
JOSH PHEGLEY Three of his first four hits were homers, including a game-winning grand slam in Detroit: Talk about an impact. Will be the team's starting catcher for the rest of '13, but will he stay there?
JAKE PEAVY The most crucial factor for a healthy Peavy is whether he's pitching for the White Sox or moved before the non-waiver Trade Deadline.

Rios had the team's steadiest first half with the bat, while Adam Dunn's last six weeks, including a .274 average with nine homers and 24 RBIs in June, resembled the dynamic presence the White Sox believed they were adding three years ago. And Crain performed like one of the game's best relievers.

Any one of these three, or for that matter, all three, could soon be gone to another team. That fact puts personal and organizational pride as a second-half driving force.

"I'm looking for continued improvement with each guy we got," said White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper, referring specifically to his staff. "That's regardless of where we stand in the season, which hasn't gone well for us at all, which is frustrating and disappointing.

"We've never been in this spot before. I've been here 12 years and we've never been sellers or out of it. Sellers isn't the right word. Out of contention. Playing meaningful ball is important. It doesn't look like we are going to be in the hunt, but it's still meaningful ball for everyone.

"Everybody has something on their list we are trying to do to continue to improve," Cooper said. "We want to round out our arsenal and continue to make guys solid Major Leaguers that can help us win in the future."

What the immediate future holds for the White Sox won't be known for a few weeks. They'll "get there," as Hahn said. It's just a question of who will be with them when they arrive.

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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