By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) The easy thing is to look at the Chicago White Sox and write them off as a lost cause.
They sit in the AL Central cellar with a 14-18 record, somehow beneath the Minnesota Twins, a team that has somehow reached the .500 mark.
After last year’s late collapse, this year’s unimpressive start and a slew of injuries, the White Sox seem doomed to an awful season that will bring about a sea of empty seats at the Cell by mid-July.
Fans have rarely given the White Sox the kind of support that owner Jerry Reinsdorf wants to see, but there is a window of opportunity that has just opened and the White Sox have a chance to run through it and make their mark on the 2013 season.
They have just finished a two-game stretch against the New York Mets – an equally disappointing team – and now embark on a stretch in which 17 of their next 20 games are against teams with losing records.
That means there’s a legitimate chance for the White Sox to get well and climb out of the basement.
If that’s going to happen, the White Sox cannot remain the worst offensive team in the American League. If you haven’t glanced at the American League standings recently, do so. You’ll notice that the Houston Astros are now in the AL West. For 51 years, the Astros were a National League team, but Major League Baseball, in its infinite wisdom, decided to take the worst team in the National League and move them to the American League.
The Astros are just as bad in the AL as they were in the NL, but they are ahead of the White Sox in two key offensive categories. The White Sox have scored fewer runs than the Astros and they get on base less than the Astros.
That’s not good when you are trying to win baseball games.
There’s a number of reasons for the White Sox’s less-than-acceptable offensive showing.
The White Sox have been trotting out Jeff Keppinger at third base. For some reason, they thought he would be a competent major league player this year. He has been abysmal with a .191 batting average, no home runs and six RBIs. If you prefer the non-traditional stats – which give you an even greater insight into a player’s production – Keppinger has an on-base percentage of .188, a slugging percentage of .209 and an OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging) of .397.
Keppinger took a seat on the bench Wednesday night in the 6-3 victory over the Mets. That seat needs to be permanent.
Paul Konerko has not been hitting the way he can since the second half of last season. Manager Robin Ventura is not going to give up on Paulie because he is still their best hitter when his game comes back together. But for now, he has a slash line of .276/.371/.647.
Then there’s Adam Dunn. Many modern baseball theorists claim Dunn’s ridiculously high strikeout levels are acceptable when he’s getting on base and hitting home runs. He is not doing either and he is dragging down the White Sox once again. His slash line is .242/.327.569.
How much more rope are the White Sox going to give him? He has already struck out 41 times and he has just 12 walks. He is getting worse and not better. General manager Rick Hahn and Reinsdorf have a hard decision to make. Dunn may be a decent guy in the clubhouse, but he is the black plague in the lineup. He is a killer of rallies.
If a few roster and lineup adjustments are made, the offense may improve significantly when Dayan Viciedo (oblique) and Gordon Beckham (wrist) return shortly from injuries. Viciedo can lash the ball and Beckham looked like he finally understood how to hit big-league pitching.
The odds are against the White Sox until they do something about Keppinger and Dunn. But they have come to the point in the schedule where they can make good things happen.
If they don’t improve now, it could be a very long summer on the South Side.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.