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Hoge’s White Sox Mailbag: 10 Burning Questions For The 2nd Half

Robin Ventura congratulates Kevin Youkilis after a two-run home run.  (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)

Robin Ventura congratulates Kevin Youkilis after a two-run home run. (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)

Adam Hoge Adam Hoge
Adam is a senior writer, columnist and Chicago Bears reporter for...
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By Adam Hoge-

(CBS) After spending a week in Arizona for spring training back in March, I put together my verdict for the 2012 White Sox season.

86-76.

As of July 10, it looks like I was wrong. My prediction was on the high end of what everyone else was predicting and yet, it wasn’t high enough.

Here’s a look at some of the conclusions I made on April 3 and whether they were right or wrong.

What I Was Right About

“The White Sox don’t have a true No. 2 hitter and it’s probably the largest hole on the team.” – It didn’t take long for this to prove to be true, but it was even worse than I expected. Before Beckham was moved to the 2-hole in May, White Sox 2-hitters had a collective OPS of .370, a number that’s almost impossible to achieve.

“I know it’s not saying much, but I’m confident that this isn’t another Vinny Del Negro or Mike Quade situation in Chicago. Ventura knows what he’s doing.” – Beyond the White Sox’s current 47-38 record, it’s obvious that new manager Robin Ventura can cut it as a manager. Who knows if he’ll be a star, but it’s clear he’s not a dud. His impact on the defense is the most obvious improvement from the Ozzie Guillen Era.

“There was obvious tension in that clubhouse last season and it appears to be the exact opposite now.” – Again, that was written back in the spring and there was no guarantee that it would carry over from Glendale to Chicago. But it has. There’s no drama at 35th and Shields this season. It’s just about baseball.

“The White Sox farm system is better than most think.” – I made this conclusion based on some of the young arms who made the team out of spring training, as well as some of the even younger position players who didn’t. The White Sox had 10 rookies on the team last weekend and are in first place. Enough said.

“Konerko looks as good as ever.” – I was both right and wrong about this. Through May 27, when Konerko hit the .399 mark, he really did look as good as ever. Hosting on 670 The Score with Ben Finfer the next day, we talked about whether or not he would ever surpass Frank Thomas as the best White Sox player ever. Since May 28, his line looks like this: 236 BA/.304 OBP/.325 SLG/.629 OPS with 3 HR & 9 RBI. The slump coincides with a wrist procedure June 6, something that has plagued him before. Konerko’s health in the second half will be key.

“Defensively, the infield should be one of the best in the league and even the outfield won’t be too bad.” – The infield has been great for most of the season. The only hiccup was when Orlando Hudson took over at third base, but even he made some nice plays at times. Kevin Youkilis has locked down the hot corner and the White Sox’s infield is among the league’s best. You could say the same about the outfield. Alejando De Aza has been great in center (although I still think he plays too deep) and Alex Rios looks rejuvenated in right. Dayan Viciedo has blown away expectations in left.

“If Adam Dunn and Rios improve offensively, the biggest strength won’t just be Konerko, but the entire heart of the order. That’s a big “if” though.” – It was a big “if”, but so far, so good. Rios has been outstanding and Dunn has obviously been much more productive. Youkilis was an incredible addition.

What I Was Wrong About

“I ultimately see Peavy destined for the bullpen, either later this year or next.” – Peavy publicly said he wouldn’t change his approach this season, which led me to believe that he was destined for the disabled list. If he wanted to keep throwing with max effort on every pitch, he wasn’t going to last much longer as a starter. But when the season started, Peavy did change his approach. He’s been much better at changing speeds and focusing more on location rather than velocity. Now he’s an All-Star again.

“Addison Reed, Hector Santiago and Nate Jones are unproven so it’s hard to put that much faith in them right now.” – All three were impressive in Arizona, but asking them to carry the bullpen at the start of the season was too much. That said, Reed and Jones have pretty much carried the bullpen and although Santiago failed as the closer, he has been good enough to stick out there.

“Dayan Viciedo is definitely struggling in left field, but when Kosuke Fukudome plays, the White Sox will have an above-average defensive outfield.” – Viciedo was struggling in left field when I saw him in spring training, but when the season started, he looked just fine. He has been at least an average defensive left fielder, if not better. Oh, and who is Kosuke Fukudome?

“I think the White Sox will go 86-76, flirt with the Tigers for most of the season, and ultimately fall a few games short of the last Wild Card spot.” – OK, so I was right in saying the White Sox would compete this season, but who knew I was still underestimating them back in March? Technically, this prediction could still be right, but the White Sox are on pace for more than 86 wins and even if the Tigers catch them, they are in good shape for one of the wild card spots. Of course, there’s plenty of baseball left to be played.

On to your questions (as always, they are left unedited):

what do you think the second half will be like for the pen and quintana now that the scouts can catch up to the rooks? – @QuickJones81

This is a great question. I’m really curious to see how Jose Quintana fares the second time he faces an opponent. That said, remarkably, he has only faced one A.L. Central opponent so far (Cleveland, twice). He’ll face Kansas City for the first time Friday, but if the White Sox were to maintain a normal five-man rotation, he wouldn’t face Detroit for the first time until Aug. 31 and Minnesota for the first time until Sept. 5. It’s hard to fully predict right now, but it looks like Detroit and Minnesota would end up getting second cracks at him in September, with Cleveland possibly getting a third crack in the last series of the year. Right now it does appear that Quintana will face the Rangers, Yankees and Blue Jays for a second time in the next month and a half.

Facing a team the second time around will tell us a lot and that goes for the rookies in the bullpen too. There’s a lot of scouting tape/information out there, but nothing compares to actually facing a guy. Usually the hitters adjust. We’ll see how Quintana and the other rookies respond.

#Sox farm system was called the worst by experts, but w/how many rooks they have on the team, aren’t the experts wrong? – @JRu131

Yes and no. Obviously no one thought the White Sox had enough depth in their system to have 10 rookies on a first place team in July. That said, those rankings are impacted greatly by high-end prospects and the White Sox didn’t really have any in March and they don’t really have any now. Addison Reed was the only one considered a top 100 prospect and even now, that’s still pretty accurate. Sure, the experts had given up on guys like Nate Jones and Jordan Danks, but it’s not like the ceiling on those guys is off the charts. Meanwhile, it appears everyone missed on Jose Quintana except for Kenny Williams, but isn’t the verdict still out on him?

When I said back in April that the minor league system was better than most think, I qualified it by saying it’s still not at top 20 system. That’s still true.

George Kottaras would fit will with the Sox. Got some pop, and #Brewers will deal him when Lucroy comes back. – @RobSchroeder12

This question (actually, it’s not even a question) came as a result of me wondering outloud on Twitter if the White Sox would consider adding a backup catcher with Tyler Flowers struggling as much as he is. I’m not sure it’s a big priority, but it’s the kind of small-scale move that is possible for the White Sox to pull off.

Kottaras isn’t a great player, but this is the kind of minor move that might work for the Sox. With Jonathon Lucroy on the disabled list, Martin Maldonado has emerged as a legitimate threat for the Brewers and they will have to make a decision when Lucroy returns shortly. Kottaras could be the odd man out, but the Brewers might decide Maldonado could still use more seasoning in Triple-A.

On the Sox side of things, Kottaras wouldn’t cost much more than a low-level prospect, but will they find such a move necessary? The catcher only has a .224 career batting average, although he does get on base a decent amount and his .822 OPS in 53 games this season is decent. Those numbers are a step up from Flowers’ .187 career batting average and .545 OPS this season. Flowers looks lost in the majors and is getting too much playing time (25 games) to be this bad. Kottaras would be a decent, low-cost upgrade.

Flowers for Olivo? #throwback – @Outlaw1092

Considering Flowers’ trade value (almost nothing), I don’t think this is a realistic move. Plus, can you imagine A.J. Pierzynski and Miguel Olivo in the same locker room (and sharing time at the same position)? I can’t.

the Sox reportedly had scouts at the Marlins/Cardinals game yesterday in St. Louis. Any idea who they were looking at? – @gknuter711

Honestly, no. In fact, it’s a little curious for them to be at that game considering both teams are in still in the playoff hunt and unlikely to give up key pieces. Maybe the White Sox are hoping the Marlins fall out of it and maybe they will be willing to give up a reliever.

By the way, with John Danks on the shelf, wouldn’t it be nice for the White Sox to get Mark Buehrle back in the rotation?

Five Other Important Questions For the 2nd Half

Who will the White Sox add?

By now, I’ve made this pretty clear. I’d be pretty surprised to see the White Sox add anything besides a veteran reliever. That may change if John Danks is ruled out for the season, but remember, you only need four starters for the playoffs. As long as Chris Sale and Jake Peavy remain healthy (still a big “if”), the White Sox will have Quintana, Danks, Gavin Floyd and Philip Humber to fill in the last two spots in a playoff rotation. That’s enough in my opinion. If you don’t agree, then just remember the harsh reality that the Sox don’t have the ability to add a lot of money and they don’t have a lot to deal.

Will John Danks return?

This is a good question and at this point, the silence is disturbing. The White Sox don’t only need Danks, but they need him to pitch better if/when he does get back. It might be a good idea for the White Sox to proceed as if they aren’t going to get Danks back and if he does, then it’s a great acquisition.

Will some players regress to the mean?

When Paul Konerko was batting .399 and Adam Dunn was crushing everything, you knew they would take a step back at some point. That happened. I mentioned Konerko’s stats since May 28 earlier and Adam Dunn’s numbers since that exact same date are somewhat frightening. Dunn’s batting average since May 28 is .167, not much better than the .159 he posted last season. The good news is that he has still managed 10 home runs, 26 RBI and 29 walks in that time frame, but he only has one double.

But you would think that Konerko and Dunn will get it going again at some point. Their inconsistency is a big reason why the offense has been inconsistent as a whole recently and it makes you wonder where the White Sox would be if Youkilis wasn’t here and Rios wasn’t hitting everything in site. But there are two other guys that you have to assume will slow down and regress to the mean at some point.

Overall, though, if Konerko and Dunn get better, and Rios and Youkilis regress a tad, the offense should be about the same, which so far has been enough to win.

Will Chris Sale and Jake Peavy hold up?

This one is easy: they better or the White Sox are in trouble. And that’s why the White Sox have been so careful with Sale. They basically gave up a win Sunday because they are being so careful.

If either of these guys go down, the White Sox will be scrambling. They might be forced to make a move for a starter and that could hurt the future.

How will Ventura do when the pressure is on?

This question is the key reason why it’s still to early to anoint Ventura as baseball’s next great manager. He’s done a great job so far, but how will he fare late in the year when more decisions have to be made and the game speeds up for him? Managers are under the microscope in September and October and while I personally believe Ventura will be able to handle it, there’s no way to know for sure until he goes through the fire.

Adjusted Verdict

In my opinion, the White Sox should hold on, but there are still a ton of questions (we just addressed some major ones). It would be unfair of me to keep my prediction at 86 wins — that would mean they would play .500 baseball the rest of the way — but I’m also not ready to say that they will run away with the division. With the pitching staff’s health a major concern, I’ll put their record at 42-35 the rest of the way. That would give the White Sox 89 wins. Whether or not that wins the division is up to the Tigers and Indians, but it would still put the Sox in a good spot for one of the Wild Card spots.

adam hoge 2012 small1 Hoges White Sox Mailbag: 10 Burning Questions For The 2nd Half

Adam Hoge

Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.