CHICAGO -- The first half of the 2014 season didn't go exactly as planned for the White Sox.
Chicago has suffered too many key injuries, too many tough late losses and still too many defensive miscues that plagued the team last season through a tough campaign. While the season has not gone as planned so far, it's certainly a considerable step in the right direction behind Jose Abreu, Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Adam Eaton, to name a few, as they prepare for the second half.
"These guys play hard all the time, and for every at-bat, they are going up there and grinding and playing the whole game," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "That's all you can ask.
"We've had spurts where we play well and spurts where we didn't play that well. We've had a lot of games that we could have won that we didn't win. You wish you were in a better spot. Again, you just come back and clean that stuff up."
Five key developments in the first half
1. Abreu's stardom
Where would the White Sox be without their free-agent rookie slugger Jose Abreu from Cuba? Abreu missed 14 games due to a left ankle injury and still is on pace to match the single-season franchise home run record held by Albert Belle at 49. The first baseman is as professional as he is talented, and he has emerged as a quiet leader of the team.
|MVP: Jose Abreu
His statistics at the break represent numbers for a full season, let alone just 96 games played by the team.
|Top starter: Chris Sale
The southpaw missed 32 games and six starts due to a flexor muscle strain in his left arm, and he still was one of the AL's best.
|Top rookie: Abreu
Abreu is not just the best rookie on the White Sox, but he is likely the best rookie in the entire AL. Abreu is Chicago's driving force at the heart of the offense.
|Top reliever: Zach Putnam
Jake Petricka might have been the most impressive, but the arrival of Putnam helped a shaky bullpen start to align
2. Sale's excellence
For one brief moment in Detroit in late April, it looked as if Chris Sale was another supremely talented hurler sidelined by arm issues. But he has flourished since missing six starts due to a flexor muscle strain, allowing 15 earned runs on 48 hits over 67 2/3 innings, while fanning 73. The three-time All-Star stands as a true ace.
3. Better than expected
The White Sox won only 63 games last season and they were every bit as bad as their record -- so even 70 to 75 wins this year would be an improvement. But the emergence of Abreu, the arrival of Eaton and the excellence of Sale, coupled with American League parity, has fans excited before the projected 2015 and/or '16 contention plan.
4. Rotation depletion
Sale, Quintana and John Danks have proven to be overall frontline starters. The same cannot be said for Erik Johnson and Felipe Paulino. Ineffectiveness, including a velocity drop, sent Johnson back to Triple-A Charlotte, while Paulino also had problems with ineffectiveness as well as injuries. Hector Noesi and Scott Carroll have filled in the roles admirably.
5. Key injuries hamper progress
Avisail Garcia, a burgeoning middle-of-the-order presence, was basically lost for the season to a left shoulder injury while diving for a fly ball in right field at Coors Field on April 9. Nate Jones and Matt Lindstrom certainly could have quelled some of the late-inning relief struggles, while Sale, Abreu, Eaton and Conor Gillaspie all have lost significant time to the disabled list.
Five storylines to watch for in the second half
1. Will Rodon arrive?
Carlos Rodon, the White Sox top pick and the third selection overall in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, could be on the fast track to the Majors after agreeing to a franchise-record $6.582 million bonus. Rodon, deemed the most big league ready of this year's draftees, is playing for Class A Winston-Salem. Rodon could follow Sale's development path, as Sale pitched out of the White Sox bullpen during the same Draft season. Rodon's future remains as part of the rotation, and he will not be rushed.
Players to watch in second half
For a player this overwhelmingly impressive and in pursuit of records while navigating his first full big league season, Abreu should always be watched.
The White Sox need to decide if Beckham is part of their future plans.
Garcia was originally lost for the season, but rehab work on his left shoulder has targeted him for a potential return in late August or early September.
2. Abreu, the record breaker
Abreu ended the first half with 82 games played and 29 homers. In the second half, he has a shot to match or pass Belle's White Sox single-season record as well as Mark McGwire's rookie home run record, which both sit at 49. Pitchers will continue to adjust to Abreu, but he certainly has been up to said challenge to date.
3. Buyer, seller or both?
General manager Rick Hahn talked back in Spring Training about having to decipher whether a successful 2014 season had real postseason possibilities or was "fool's gold." While the team is better than expected, they certainly won't be adding two-month rental players. Veterans such as Gordon Beckham, Alexei Ramirez, Danks and Adam Dunn or a younger player such as Dayan Viciedo all could hold value to other more prime contenders and help Chicago's ongoing reshaping process in return.
4. Konerko's final curtain call
Paul Konerko is Chicago's captain, team leader and one of the most accomplished players in franchise history. But his 16-year run on the South Side of Chicago comes to a close at the conclusion of this season. Even if the White Sox are not in contention, September should be memorable as Konerko wraps up his historic career.
5. Youth might be served?
Micah Johnson, Carlos Sanchez, Marcus Semien and Matt Davidson all figure to be part of the White Sox return to contention and then their sustained success over many years to come. Semien started the year with the team and Sanchez played the first half's final game, but depending on the moves made by Hahn, the future of some of these players could begin soon.