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Tuesday, August 24, 2010
White Sox really need to make a run

ESPN.com

Editor's note: Throughout August, ESPN.com will take a close look at various teams in the hunt for a playoff spot to assess whether they have what it takes to survive the dog days of August and remain in contention come October.

At the bottom of the page, each team will receive a dog bone rating based on our overall analysis: five bones = serious postseason contender; four bones = good contender; three bones = average contender; two bones = poor contender; one bone = no contender.

Paul Konerko
Konerko

Paul Konerko

Konerko is more than the captain for the White Sox this year; he's Mr. Everything, leading the South Siders in batting average (.310), OBP (.390), slugging percentage (.581), home runs (31), RBIs (86) and runs scored (72), among other categories. The Sox have needed every bit of Konerko's career year, too. With Alex Rios fading and Carlos Quentin running hot and cold all season, Konerko has been the one consistent threat not just in the middle of the order but in the entire lineup.

-- Jim Margalus, White Sox blogger (Sox Machine), SweetSpot Blog Network

Bobby Jenks
Jenks

Bobby Jenks

Before Jenks blew a three-run lead to the Twins on July 18, the White Sox's bullpen was on fire. Now it's in flames, with a 1-5 record and a 5.75 ERA over its last 12 games (and the win came courtesy of a blown save). Worse yet, J.J. Putz is battling knee inflammation and Matt Thornton has a sore forearm. It's up to Jenks to restore order to the back end of the bullpen. He's shown flashes of his former self, and maybe three scoreless innings against the Royals on Sunday will put him back on track.

-- Jim Margalus, White Sox blogger (Sox Machine), SweetSpot Blog Network

During the offseason, Chicago White Sox general manager Kenny Williams had a different focus for the 2010 season: Speed, pitching and defense. Over the last decade, the South Siders relied heavily on the long ball. But with the departures of Jim Thome and Jermaine Dye, along with the acquisitions of Alex Rios, Juan Pierre, Omar Vizquel, Jake Peavy and Edwin Jackson, the club is looking to return to the pitching and small-ball mentality that led them to the World Series crown in 2005.

Pierre and Rios running the bases

On the base paths, Pierre and Rios have been off to the races. Batting out of the leadoff spot, Pierre leads the majors with 49 stolen bases and Rios is in the American League top 10 with 25. But the White Sox haven't relied only on those two swiping bases as manager Ozzie Guillen finds other ways to move his base runners over. The White Sox lead all American League teams with 41 sacrifice hits, already passing their total of 34 from the 2009 season.

Relying on the arms

The pitching has been solid. Despite losing Peavy to a season-ending injury in early July, the team continues to get solid efforts from its starting rotation. Team ace Mark Buehrle, Gavin Floyd, John Danks, Freddy Garcia and midseason acquisition Edwin Jackson have led the way to the club's 4.09 ERA among starters, good for fifth best in the American League.

Mark Buehrle
Buehrle

But a major concern has developed of late with the team's bullpen. Closing games has been an issue in August as White Sox relievers have blown five saves in the month leading the American League. Those five blown saves have been the difference in the club losing their hold on first place in the division, now trailing the Minnesota Twins by 4½ games.

Konerko for MVP?

Despite the team's emphasis on small ball, the power still exists in the middle of the order. Paul Konerko is one of only five players in the majors with over 30 home runs, and throughout the season has emerged as an MVP candidate. Named to his fourth career All-Star Game, he ranks in the American League top 10 in home runs, RBIs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS. Konerko is also hitting for a high average. His current .310 batting average is only three points shy of his career best .313 he set in 2006, and well above his 2009 mark of .277. The main improvement in Konerko's hitting this season is his production against changeups. In 2010, he's hitting changeups for a .319 average after struggling with that pitch in 2009, hitting .255.

Looking ahead

Heading down the stretch, there may be some concern among White Sox fans. If they're going to win the AL Central, then they're going to have to beat the teams in it. This season, that hasn't been easy. The White Sox only have a 24-29 record against ALCentral teams, including 5-10 against the first-place Minnesota Twins. They have 19 games remaining vs. division foes, enough to either make or break their season.

-- Ernest Tolden, ESPN Stats & Info blog

From FanGraphs

When you watch the White Sox play, you are apt to see things like Juan Pierre leading off, Mark Kotsay at DH and Omar Vizquel at third base, and yet Chicago has continued to play winning baseball despite some curious lineup changes and some offensive black holes. Their secret weapon? Don Cooper, perhaps the most underrated pitching coach in the game.

Everyone has heard about Dave Duncan's prowess for fixing pitchers in St. Louis, and Leo Mazzone got a lot of credit for the Braves' epic run during the 1990s, but Cooper has flown under the radar as a pitching guru. However, he's been instrumental in helping the White Sox get top-notch performances out of guys who were deemed not good enough for another major league organization. In fact, the cast-off label could be applied to nearly every member of the White Sox bullpen.

Jenks was claimed off waivers after the 2004 season, in which he had posted a 10.24 ERA in the minor leagues. In 2005, with some mechanical adjustments from Cooper, Jenks was throwing strikes and blowing away major league hitters. He took over as White Sox closer in 2006 and has been one of the game's best ninth-inning stoppers since, posting +8.5 wins above replacement in his career.

He isn't even Cooper's biggest success story, however. That would be Thornton, the game's premier left-handed reliever. The White Sox picked him up in the spring of 2006, sending busted prospect Joe Borchard to Seattle to acquire him. Thornton threw hard, but that was the only thing he could do. His command was dreadful, he didn't have any good off-speed stuff and hitters would just wait for Thornton to fall behind in the count before sitting on his fastball.

For more of For more of FanGraphs' analysis, click here Insider .