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Five questions for the White Sox in the second half

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The biggest one may be answered before the end of the month

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

After one necessary off day and one unnecessary off day, the White Sox are back in action against Houston tonight. Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic will throw out the ceremonial first pitches, but after the Bulls' biggest additions cycle out of the news, the biggest Chicago sports story will be about who's on the way out.

That's the biggest question the White Sox have to address in the second half, but there are a few undercards as well. Let's run them down:

No. 1: Who will be moved?

Inside a fortnight from the trade deadline, the candidates remain pretty obvious. Financial cost is reason enough to move Adam Dunn, and opportunity cost is reason enough to deal Gordon Beckham. After that, the cost-benefit analysis grows more difficult to pin down -- the spectrum ranges from Alejandro De Aza and Dayan Viciedo to John Danks to Alexei Ramirez -- since nobody on the depth chart is banging down the door behind them.

No. 2: Can the young position players finish what they started?

Jose Abreu is on pace to set the rookie record for homers, and Conor Gillaspie taunted regression further with a power surge to close out the first half (.861 OPS!). Adam Eaton is the only one who seems like he could be expected to improve, but if the three of these guys managed to hold the line, it makes Avisail Garcia's injury much easier to absorb in the first year of the reconstruction.

No. 3: Who can get healthy?

Nate Jones and Matt Lindstrom might return too late to count toward meaningful improvement in the standings, but it'd be better late than never. There are still young relievers to evaluate in less crucial roles, and beyond the practical implications, everybody invested in the outcome would welcome easier finishes on "safe" leads.

The same can be said for Garcia. If he's 100 percent before the end of the season, let him take some hacks and see what happens, because he has nothing to lose performance-wise.

No. 4: Chris Sale and Jose Quintana are great, huh?

Both enter the second half having improved on their peripherals for a third straight season. That's kinda nuts, considering their first seasons as major-league starters were sizable successes. They just need to cross the finish line in full working order.

No. 5: Does anybody care about Erik Johnson?

Because the bullpen can't stop crop-dusting the season, Johnson's disastrous year really hasn't gotten the attention it deserves. His demotion to Charlotte was an easy call, and yet somehow he's pitched even worse in Charlotte:

Tm W ERA GS IP H HR BB SO HBP
Chicago 1-1
6.46 5 23.2 27 1 15 18 2
Charlotte 3-6 6.80 15 82.0 104 10 39 49 4
Combined 4-7 6.73 20 105.2 128 11 54 67 6

Johnson took the mound for the Knights on Thursday, and after throwing four scoreless innings, he could only record four more outs while giving up five runs. That makes it 12 consecutive outings without a quality start. We all know the flaws of the quality start, but the biggest criticism is that it's too forgiving, which underscores the depths of Johnson's despair.

We know how he's put up those numbers. He's lacked a couple ticks of velocity, and while his control has persevered, his command has abandoned him. The best way to draw that distinction -- he hasn't walked anybody over his last two starts (11 1/3 innings) ... but he has allowed 21 hits.

But we still don't know why. That combination usually signals some kind of physical shortcoming, but the Sox aren't acting like he's an injury concern. Not only has Johnson avoided the disabled list, but he hasn't missed a start this season. And it looks like he'll continue taking the ball every fifth day, too, because before Johnson took the mound on Thursday, the Sox said goodbye to a couple of his rotationmates instead. They traded Dylan Axelrod to Cincinnati and let Deunte Heath pursue opportunities in Japan, so it doesn't look like Johnson will be squeezed out anytime soon.

It's cool that Scott Carroll is taking Johnson's dropped opportunity and doing what he can with it, because at least it's an upgrade in charisma. But Johnson's development was supposed to be the pitching equivalent of the Abreu/Eaton/Garcia troika, and while Garcia's absence has been felt, it's almost like Johnson was never there. With Carlos Rodon a potential fast-track candidate for the White Sox rotation at some point in 2015, maybe that's the idea right now.