CHICAGO -- Long before the final out was made on a disappointing 2011 season, the White Sox had solidly established themselves as a club headed no place in particular.
They reached .500 only because they worked hard at it, but ultimately ended the season with a 79-83 mark. There were only a few stretches that could loosely be defined as a hot streak and when they actually did have a glimmer of hope it wasn’t by their doing.
“It's unfortunate because it seemed like the only time we were really in it, it was not because so much what we were doing, but what other teams weren't doing,” captain Paul Konerko said. “That's kind of a bad. … That's just the facts of it.”
The final game was just more disappointment. Chris Sale couldn’t preserve a ninth-inning lead and the White Sox lost for the ninth time when leading after eight innings. Bullpen issues plagued the team early and started the downward spiral way back in April.
But this wasn’t about the lack of finding a closer early, the bad defense that cost games in the first month or the high-priced talent that failed to drive in runs. The club failed to mesh and some interesting changes await this offseason.
Carlos Quentin figures to be shopped around this winter. Either John Danks or Gavin Floyd could be moved as well. Do the White Sox look for a leadoff man, or are they confident that Alejandro De Aza can do the job?
If Sale goes to the rotation there could be another left-hander for the bullpen. And are the White Sox confident that Sergio Santos can fix what plagued him over the final six weeks?
“I’m excited to see what’s going to happen but I’m not anxious,” said Gordon Beckham, whose regression probably doesn’t make him a viable trade piece. “I think everybody is so worn out. The season’s so long that everybody is just tired. I think in a couple of weeks it will be more important to us to see what we do next year. We’re excited about the possibility of new people around. Hopefully that will work.”
For now, the White Sox will await word on their first major move of the offseason. A manager could be in place before the playoffs end. Player moves will start in November.
The White Sox pitching staff, especially the starting staff, was the most consistent group on the team, but that didn’t make 2011 better for them.
“When you fail collectively as a group, you know, it doesn’t temper that disappointment,” pitching coach/interim manager Don Cooper said. “In 2005 we won a world championship and in 2008 we got in the playoffs. Nothing less than getting in the playoffs is fun. You set out to try to do that and when it doesn’t happen, it’s disappointing. But I don’t take any personal satisfaction when we pitch pretty well and it doesn’t work out.”
A.J. Pierzynski, who helped guide that pitching staff, was able to put a positive spin on things as he looked forward to next season.
“The one thing I know about the White Sox is that they always try to win,” Pierzynski said. “No matter what happens, no matter what moves we make, no matter what we try to do, at the end of the day they want to win. And that's a credit to Jerry [Reinsdorf], a credit to Kenny [Williams]. They always want to win.
“They always want to put people in the seats and they always want to give them an entertaining style of baseball and we've done that for the seven years I've been here. Some years it's worked out, some years it hasn't. At the end of the day, we know they want to win and they do everything in their power to put a good product out there.”
That's what they thought they were doing this year before the bottom dropped out and the fans stayed away. The White Sox will take a financial hit this year with an attendance that barely reached 2 million. That’s nearly 700,000 short of being able to pay for this $127-million-plus squad.
But that’s an issue for management. On the players' side there was disappointment, but still some appreciation in completing this season’s rugged journey with their heads held high.
“Listen, when you go through the whole year with a bunch of guys and everybody works hard and gives everything they have, you have a lot of respect for everybody in here and you know there's more to life than winning the division and going to the playoffs and you get to know everybody and you have relationships that go beyond that kind of stuff,” Paul Konerko said. “That's part of it for us.
“The other part of it is saying, 'Hey, we weren't good. We didn't get it done. This was a failure as far as the goals that we put out there.' So there's that balance between knowing that it was a lost year and just a horrible year but at the same time, knowing a lot of the people you did it with were all great.”
How many of those “great” people return, remains to be seen.