Sox seek contention conclusion between lines

Sox seek contention conclusion between lines

Sox seek contention conclusion between lines
CHICAGO -- There's a memorable scene from the classic baseball movie "Bad News Bears in Breaking Training" in which actor William Devane and some of the Bears begin a "Let them play" chant on the field in order to extend their exhibition contest at the Astrodome.

It's a saying that probably won't be yelled by A.J. Pierzynski or Paul Konerko in Chicago any time soon, but it still directly applies to the 2012 White Sox.

Their .500 team comes off of an impressive three-game sweep of a Cubs crew that albeit is one of the worst record-wise in all the game. The White Sox mixed together two earned runs allowed over 19 innings from their starters with airtight relief and clutch hitting in looking more postseason-worthy than simply the weekend's definitive winner.

But are the White Sox really a playoff-caliber group, capable of an extended run of success? The third week of May seems too early to make that call, unless the evidence is overwhelming in one direction. With the White Sox body of work checking in as inconclusive, they have taken a Bad News Bears direction when hit with this question directly.

"Let's just let them play," White Sox general manager Ken Williams told during a rare visit to Wrigley Field. "It's only the middle of May. We'll find out who we are."

"I don't think we'll know that until the end of August, to be honest," said second baseman Gordon Beckham when asked about playoff potential. "That will tell us if we've got a chance or not."

Should the White Sox slip out of contention, there are plenty of enticing individual components who could bring back top young talent in return.

"This is a 162-game grind. You tend to find out who you are in this sport over the long haul, not over a short sample period."
-- GM Ken Williams

See Jake Peavy, Matt Thornton, Gavin Floyd and Pierzynski as a few examples.

Ask White Sox players about the pressure to show true contending status before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, and they want absolutely no part of the inquiry. Their job is on the field, not in the front office.

"Would they make moves if we are not in it? I guess they would. But I don't know," Beckham said. "I don't know enough about baseball and how things operate with trades and stuff."

"All we can control is how hard we play," White Sox designated hitter Adam Dunn said. "From that perspective, everybody has done everything they possibly can do."

"That's not my problem or my thing to worry about," said Pierzynski, who would have to bypass his no-trade veto power if the White Sox tried to move him. "I'm just worried about today."

As for Williams, the man who could add on or ultimately pull the rebuild trigger, he already has made a low-cost, potentially higher-impact sort of enhancement by bringing in switch-hitting infielder Orlando Hudson to primarily play third. Third base has been the one true weak spot of the White Sox attack, due to Brent Morel's ongoing back pain and his ensuing miserable start with the bat.

Williams won't go any deeper than the Twins series, though, when asked if he can wait until mid-August to see if this team can contend.

"Listen, I'm not going to talk about any of that," Williams said. "What I will say is this: You can think off the top of your head in five seconds of darn near two handfuls of games that should be under the win column for the White Sox. For whatever reason, something happened during the course of the game that got us off track and put an 'L' on the board as a result.

"You are not asking those questions if we won those games. You are asking a whole different set of questions that I wouldn't answer as well," added Williams with a wry smile. "Just let them play."

Every team has a handful of games it shouldn't win but does, and another handful where it had control and falls short. Williams has invoked a similar argument over the past few seasons, and ultimately the White Sox proved they weren't good enough to be considered elite.

Of course, this year stands as a completely separate entity, a cohesive unit under Robin Ventura where focus remains on the game at hand and really nothing more.

"There hasn't been any unnecessary stuff put on us by outside forces saying we have to win the World Series or it's a bad year," Pierzynski said. "We went into it and said, 'We like the team we have, we like the opportunity a lot of guys are going to get, and if things work out, they work out.'

"Our ultimate goal is always to make the playoffs, but it's not the end all, be all. Paul [Konerko] said that in Spring Training and turned people's heads, but at the same time, it made sense what he was saying and it's the way you have to look at it."

Detroit and Cleveland are the teams the White Sox will have to beat out for the American League Central crown, but in the end, it's more about the South Siders. If their offense produces across-the-board consistency and their pitching stays pretty much where it's at, then ...

Too early for predictions. In Devane's immortal words, "Let them play."

"Do we have the talent and capability? Yeah. I believe that 100 percent," Dunn said. "But right now, in May, I don't know."

"This is a 162-game grind," Williams said. "You tend to find out who you are in this sport over the long haul, not over a short sample period."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.