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Year in review: Sox make some strides

Jose Abreu gave the White Sox offense a big boost in 2014. Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

CHICAGO -- While the 2014 season was better than the miserable year that preceded it, the Chicago White Sox still finished under .500 with a 73-89 record.

That’s 10 games better than 2013, while another 10-game improvement in 2015 would get them above the break-even mark.

The front office clearly is aiming higher than just a 10-game jump, though, as evidenced by their player-acquisition spree in the three months since the most recent season has ended.

New additions like Zach Duke, Adam LaRoche, Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson and Melky Cabrera all have big-time experience. Not only that, the club filled key needs with some of the top options available, giving hope for an even brighter summer in 2015.

BEST MOMENTS

5. Top o’ the order: Being named a Gold Glove finalist in center field would have been a welcome sight alone for the White Sox, but Adam Eaton took it even further. He batted .300 in his first season on the South Side, and not only tied for first in the AL with 10 triples, his .355 batting average with runners in scoring position was third best. His .347 batting average in the second half was third best in the AL behind only teammate Jose Abreu (.350) and AL batting champion Jose Altuve (.349) of the Houston Astros.

4. Alexei’s excellent season: By any measure, one of the top defensive and offensive seasons from any American League shortstop in 2014 would signal an impressive year. Alexei Ramirez not only won the AL Silver Slugger Award for shortstops, he was also among the three finalists for a Gold Glove Award. Ramirez was also the first White Sox shortstop to be named an All-Star since Ozzie Guillen in 1991.

3. Bats on the offensive: First-year hitting coach Todd Steverson proved to be just what the White Sox needed, although, Abreu’s arrival might have been the biggest key for an offense that had been down in recent years. The White Sox were tied for fourth in the AL in home runs (144), were fifth in slugging percentage (.392) and fifth in OPS (.700). They had 61 games with 10 hits or more, fifth most in the AL, and their 39 multi-homer games were sixth.

2. No ordinary Sale: Left-hander Chris Sale continued his meticulous ascent up the Cy Young Award voter totals, finishing third this past season after a fifth-place finish in 2013 and a sixth-place finish one year prior. His 2.17 ERA was second in the AL to Felix Hernandez’s 2.14 mark, and he led the AL in strikeouts-per-nine-innings (10.76), while finishing second in WHIP (0.97) and opponents OBP (.262). His 208 strikeouts gave him back-to-back 200 seasons for just the fourth time in franchise history.

1. Abreu arrives: In can be argued that nobody has made a bigger splash in his first MLB season than Abreu, who was not only an All-Star, but the AL Rookie of the Year. No player in baseball history had finished in the top five of each triple-crown category before Abreu did it in 2014. He led baseball with a .581 slugging percentage and his 36 home runs were a franchise rookie record, and the sixth most from a first-year player in baseball history.

WORST MOMENTS

5. Not Hall-worthy: Despite having five former White Sox players among the 10 eligible candidates under consideration by the Golden Era Committee, none were elected into Cooperstown. Dick Allen fell one vote short, while Ken Boyer, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso and Billy Pierce also were denied entry. It wasn’t all bad on the Hall of Fame front in 2014 as Frank Thomas was inducted in July, giving a shout out to 138 former teammates in his acceptance speech.

4. Garcia shreds his shoulder: So much for that 1-2 punch the White Sox expected to see in the heart of the order as Avisail Garcia injured his shoulder in the ninth game of the season. Abreu had to go it alone as a run producer and did extraordinarily well under the circumstances, but how many runs could the White Sox have scored with a healthy Garcia? To his credit, Garcia was able to return from torn labrum and an avulsion fracture to play in 38 of the final 40 games of the season.

3. Injury concern: For the third consecutive season, Sale dealt with an early-season arm/shoulder issues, and this past season his strained flexor muscle put him on the disabled list for the first time in his career. Sale worked his way through his issue, just like he did in 2012 and 2013, but the 2014 injury was his most serious and it seems likely that Sale’s preparation for the 2015 season will be altered in some way.

2. Whiffle ball: While the offense was better in 2014, it wasn’t without its issues as White Sox hitters struck out a whopping 1,362 times, a franchise record. It put a drain on both on-base percentage and situational hitting. The previous franchise record was in 2013 when they struck out 1,207 times. Only the Houston Astros struck out more in 2014, while Adam Dunn and Tyler Flowers each struck out 159 times, leaving them tied for the fourth most in the AL.

1. No relief in sight: Nate Jones and Matt Lindstrom went down with significant injuries, Ronald Belisario was no answer for the late innings, and everybody else asked to enter a game from the White Sox’s bullpen was rarely pitching in their proper role. How bad was it in relief in 2014? The White Sox lost 43 games after holding a lead, second most in baseball behind the Texas Rangers (44), and six of those defeats came with a lead of three or more runs in the seventh inning or later.