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What's (not) working for the White Sox at the quarter pole

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The stars have more help than last year, but Rick Hahn and Robin Ventura will have to work to avoid other areas from collapsing

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

If somebody told you, a White Sox fan, that your team would be eight games over .500 through the first quarter of the season, you'd probably complain about John Danks.

Then, if somebody told you that Danks would be gone after a month, you'd probably be relatively pleased.

It isn't quite that simple, of course, as the White Sox backed into the quarter pole by losing four straight. That makes it a little more difficult to issue a forecast. Few expected the White Sox to be in first, especially with a five-game cushion at one point. Few expected the Astros and Yankees to be in last. Ideally, the Sox would've kicked them further into their respective basements, but instead, the American League has generated its own gravity, reining teams in from its center. Except the Twins. The Twins are lost in space.

The good news? The White Sox' core is still producing, and it's getting much more help than it did last year.

The bad news? There are a few areas that are on the verge of breaking away, no matter how much duct tape and gum the Sox try slapping on, and neither they nor Robin Ventura have the track record to deserve your faith.

Let's try to figure out what we know about what and whom as the Sox enter the season's second quarter.

Fine

Chris Sale: He's the front-runner for the American League Cy Young, winning each of his first eight starts, and the 1.67 ERA says it's for good reason. He won't set any strikeout records this year, but he's throwing the fewest pitches per inning of his career (14.4), and by far (previous low: 15.2).

Jose Quintana: He still can't shake the awful support, but he has shed his anonymity. He actually has a lower ERA than Sale (1.54), as well as a lower FIP (2.18 to 2.84). But he's still a notch below the Condor, as his starts are almost an inning shorter on average, perhaps because he's working with a thinner margin for error. There's no shame in that game.

Adam Eaton: Remember when David Haugh said fourth outfielder was Eaton's "ideal role on a contending Sox team?" Eaton instead picked up where he left off last year, becoming what FanGraphs called "baseball's quietest superstar." He's hitting .312/.406/.435 with more walks than strikeouts and the game's best defense in right field, and it's no fluke, as he's hitting .306/.391/.457 over the last calendar year.)

Jose Abreu: His power numbers are down, but he's brushed off his April problems by hitting .290/.366/.516 in May. He may not be able to turn as many inside fastballs into homers, but he has enough different swings to still get his hits. And hell, he still may hit 30 homers for all we know.

David Robertson: His walks are up and his strikeouts are down, but the contact hasn't hurt him like it did last year (.148/.230/.185). He hasn't allowed a homer yet this year, and the 15-percent jump in grounders helps.

Melky Cabrera: He's doing what the Sox thought they'd receive last year -- an average around .300 with extra-base power (.413 slugging percentage). The walks are a surprise, as Cabrera has already drawn 17 to just 15 strikeouts. He's also lifted his troubling splits against lefties from last year, and he's still good enough in left field to have no problems about him playing every day.

Probably fine

Todd Frazier: His average is lagging a little, but everything else about his game has been as advertised, with more walks than expected (.230/.324/.500). He already has twice as many homers (12) as any White Sox third baseman from the last three years. He just hasn't built up enough value to where it can endure a major slump, which he has encountered before. We're still figuring him out.

Carlos Rodon: He's settled into an OK groove where he alternates dominant flashes and hiccups, and ends up around a quality start no matter the order. He looked better going to his bigger fastball his last time out, but I still think he'd be better served with catching help.

Nate Jones: The bullpen's only big-stuff guy has run into rough times his last four outings, but the control problems seem correctable, as they have been in the past.

Don't get too attached

Avisail Garcia: He's been a pleasant surprise thus far (.256/.323/.427), but one can still see how to get him out (first-pitch fastballs on the inner half). His swing and chase rates are creeping up to his 2015 averages, though there's still a margin between the two. What would help preserve that margin? Another outfielder.

Brett Lawrie: He built his house on a fault line, as a recent binge has caused his strikeout rate to surge to 33 percent. He's still in OK shape (.252/.341/.435), but Robin Ventura might want to consider a few more off days against right-handed pitching while Carlos Sanchez is around, especially since Sanchez provides an upgrade in one respect.

Matt Albers: An annoying slump rendered Albers eminently human after his dynamic cat-like opening to the season, and he shouldn't be Robin Ventura's top right-handed setup option even when Jones looks shaky.

Austin Jackson: He's the White Sox' least valuable everyday player, partially because his best attribute -- allowing Eaton to move to right -- only shows up in Eaton's value. He missed out on batted-ball luck early, but he'll have to find those hits somehow, as his defense has merely looked OK in center (he'd need to be very good to make up for .224/.293/.313). He's started 38 of 40 games, and it'd be nice if a more useful bench could allow Ventura to use him in smaller doses.

Barely holding on

Shortstop: The Jimmy Rollins/Tyler Saladino tandem has basically worked out as expected -- replacement-level, but at least with different looks. Rollins' defense is a bigger problem than his offense, which is only a significant issue because Ventura keeps batting him second. Saladino isn't nearly as fun when he's not providing value on the margins (0-for-2 stealing bases). At least it'll make it easier to switch to Tim Anderson if the top prospect maintains his current course.

Catcher: The White Sox are getting bottom-third production out of Dioner Navarro and Alex Avila, and without the framing to make up for it. Navarro is hitting after an awful start, but he hemorrhages strikes behind the plate. Health/depth is a bigger concern. Avila has already been on the DL once, and Kevan Smith still hasn't played since his back betrayed him.

Bullpen: It's not a disaster in terms of depth, but Ventura could use some relievers with specific skills, rather than lefties who aren't great against lefties, and a low-to-mid leverage guy being his best non-Robertson strikeout pitcher by rate (Zach Putnam).

Not working

Back end: The hope was that Mat Latos' 5-0 start was lucky when he could use it the most. He'd still get dragged down by natural forces, but an increase in velocity or swinging strikes would offset some of regression's effects. That hasn't happened, making Latos' long-term future murky ... yet it's still the clearest of the back-end candidates. It's not like Miguel Gonzalez, Erik Johnson or Jacob Turner have distinguished themselves, and reaching for Tyler Danish or Carson Fulmer would be even iffier, which is why they're looking at guys like Anthony Ranaudo.

Bench construction: Ventura has no use for half of it, and the one non-catcher who has played regularly (Saladino) hasn't provided much help.