It was a season that manager Ozzie Guillen called “unique” and the reasons vary widely.
From in-fighting to a slow start to an improbable comeback and then a slow fade back into obscurity, the White Sox went through plenty this season. Jake Peavy’s season-ending injury was a tough blow, Paul Konerko’s MVP push was a highlight and Chris Sale’s emergence was a revelation.
Bullpen injuries, a dreadful start in April and May and some scathing Twitter critiques (mostly from Guillen’s son Oney), kept the drama flowing. By the end of the season Guillen and general manager Kenny Williams had kissed and made up, Brent Morel emerged as a talent for the future and nine victories over the final 11 games removed at least a little bit of the sour taste from a wild ride in 2010.
Here is what went right, what went wrong, questions for the offseason and what to look for in 2011:
What went right: Juan Pierre became exactly what the White Sox hoped he would be as a leadoff man, the only problem is that his emergence didn’t start until June. He became the first White Sox player to lead the league in steals (with 68) since Luis Aparicio in 1961. Alex Rios had the steadiest season of any White Sox player, batting .284 with 21 home runs and 88 RBIs. When Carlos Quentin had three multi-homer contests in a span of four games in early July it was the latest example of how damaging he can be on offense.
What went wrong: Pierre was brought aboard to spark the offense in Guillen’s small-ball vision, but a .260 on-base percentage and a .193 batting average in April was a major reason for the team’s slow start offensively. Sure Quentin had his red-hot run when the ballpark was playing small during the hottest part of the summer, but nagging injuries continued to cost him playing time, which ruined his consistency at the plate.
What went right: Omar Vizquel. Omar Vizquel. Omar Vizquel. With all due respect to Konerko, Vizquel’s unexpected contributions, especially on defense, were what made the White Sox click on the infield this season. Vizquel’s steady hand at third base came when the starting pitchers made huge improvements, and it was no coincidence. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez showed Gold Glove ability, while second baseman Gordon Beckham fought through a sophomore slump to post an impressive second half (.310 after the break). Konerko put up MVP-type numbers in what could be his final season on the South Side: .312, 39 HRs, 111 RBIs.
What went wrong: You know that left-handed run-producing bat the White Sox have been looking for? Mark Teahen was supposed to supply a portion of that, but struggled early (on defense as well), fractured a finger and lost his starting gig. Beckham was the club’s No. 9 hitter, but he was still supposed to give more than a .216 batting average in the first half.
What went right: Freddy Garcia’s 12 victories (a number that could have been as high as 16 with some help from the bullpen) gave the starting staff much-needed stability from the front end to the back. When Gavin Floyd was posting a 0.80 ERA in five July starts, he was pitching as well as anybody in baseball. John Danks might not garner any Cy Young votes, but he was a leader of the 2010 staff, going 15-11 with a 3.72 ERA. Mark Buehrle just keeps on churning out solid seasons, becoming the only active pitcher with 10-consecutive seasons of at least 10 victories, 30 starts and 200 innings. Edwin Jackson was an animal in his first four White Sox starts, posting a 0.96 ERA over 28 innings.
What went wrong: The starting pitchers can be forgiven for their slow start to the season, but when it was time to make up for it in September, they were nowhere to be found. With the season on the line, the White Sox’s staff set a dubious club record by not winning a game in 18 consecutive starts. The starters were 0-9 over that stretch with a 6.45 ERA. Sure Floyd was terrific in the middle of the season, but he has a career ERA of 6.30 in April, a 5.47 mark in May and a 4.44 mark in September. That trend continued once again this season.
What went right: The steadiest group on the team, until it was hit with a rash of injuries in the second half, the bullpen blended a nice mix of veterans and young pitchers. Bobby Jenks had 19 saves in 20 chances in the first half, while J.J. Putz and Matt Thornton proved to be an effective lefty-righty setup crew. Right-hander Sergio Santos, in just his second full season as a pitcher posted an impressive 2.96 ERA in 51 2/3 innings. Left-hander Chris Sale was even more impressive over just 21 second-half outings, showing just why the White Sox drafted him in the first round in June.
What went wrong: Calf, back and forearm injuries left Jenks with 27 saves, the least in any of his five full seasons. Jenks wasn’t the only reliever whose injuries hampered the team. Thornton and Putz were on the disabled list at the same time during a key stretch during the second half. Other issues: Santos allowed 32.2 percent of inherited runners to score, while Tony Pena had a .341 batting average against vs. first batters.
What went right: After a slow start, Guillen was still able to guide the club to 88 victories, an impressive feat considering the White Sox were just 9-14 in April and 22-28 at the end of May. Williams admitted he doubted his abilities to access talent when the White Sox were off to a brutally slow start, but his decisions were validated when the club made a mid-season run to get back into contention.
What went wrong: From the day Guillen’s son Oney left his position with the team during spring training, the manager and Williams were on shaky ground, only repairing the relationship during the final week of the season. Williams took a chance on Teahen that didn’t work well in Year 1 of a three-year deal. Sure it was admirable that Williams took a chance to make the team better down the stretch, but Manny Ramirez didn’t come close to reviving his 2008 magic, and the White Sox were left holding a $4 million invoice.
If Konerko doesn’t return, then who plays first base? Could they use the Konerko money to convince Adam Dunn to come to Chicago? Who will close if Jenks isn’t brought back, as expected. Putz is a free agent and Thornton has a team option, leaving a number of decisions to make in the bullpen. If the team doesn’t want to commit to free agent A.J. Pierzynski for multiple years, would they be willing to bring him back for just 2011?
The White Sox have no less than 14 player personnel decisions to make this winter. Free agents: Konerko, Pierzynski, Putz, Kotsay, Vizquel, Garcia, Ramirez and Andruw Jones. Arbitration eligible: Jenks, Danks, Quentin, Pena. Contract options: Thornton, Ramon Castro.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2011
Konerko’s return is 50-50. The team is interested and so is Konerko, but the veteran said that even if the White Sox are the highest bidder, it won’t guarantee that he comes back. Sale is expected to be converted back into a starting pitcher and could be the No. 5 starter if Peavy isn’t ready to return from a shoulder muscle injury by Opening Day.
Starting Brent Morel at third base and Dayan Viciedo at first leaves too many offensive question marks, so if Konerko doesn’t re-sign look for the White Sox to make a push for a veteran first or third baseman. The same goes for catcher if Pierzynski isn’t re-signed: look for the White Sox to bring aboard a veteran backstop for one or two years. Expect the White Sox to quickly exercise Thornton’s $3 million option for 2011.