One of these years, White Sox fans will enter September dreading the season's final game, rather than counting down the days until its merciful conclusion.
After the Sox closed out August getting outclassed by the Tigers in Detroit, this is not one of those seasons. Still, there are a number of things for White Sox fans to watch over an otherwise desultory final month. On my list:
Cy Young chase: While the White Sox as a whole aren’t seen as a threat, Chris Sale and Jose Quintana are still the real deal. Quintana is third and Sale fourth in the American League on Baseball-Reference.com’s WAR leaderboard behind Cole Hamels and Corey Kluber, while Sale is first and Quintana fourth on FanGraphs’ list with Kluber and Masahiro Tanaka in between. Either way, the difference between the top four spots is less than a win, and thus subject to interpretation.
Sale bounced back from his rocky patch — with the jersey-slashing incident in the middle of it — to finish a sound August in which he threw eight innings or more in three consecutive starts. He now averages 7.14 innings per outing, which is starting to create some separation with his previous career bests in durability. He might not be as calm and collected as his counterpart, but I do appreciate when his intensity manifests itself in ways that don’t result in suspensions.
Chris Sale, when asked if he found way to appreciate matchup/game: "No. I don't come here for the experience. I come here to win games."— Catherine Slonksnis (@CSlonksnis) August 31, 2016
He’s just as much of a pro, and if the two of them end up finishing in the top five in Cy Young voting, then Rick Hahn and Kenny Williams should feel extra embarrassed about their inability to build around them. That might be why the Sox could continue their quixotic quest for contention rather than packing it in ...
Perhaps Chicago White Sox people were on the same page at the deadline, as they suggest, but if that’s the case or not, perhaps they hold onto ace pitchers Chris Sale and Jose Quintana through the winter.
There’s no question longtime owner Jerry Reinsdorf has little interest in trading those two stars, according to people familiar with their thinking.
"They have an 80-year-old owner who wants to win now," one person familiar with their thinking says.
... although that raises the question why they keep getting the opportunity.
(I always like "person familiar with their thinking" as the anonymous source. Technically, a lot of us qualify for that label. Technically, a lot of us shouldn’t have our words used to give credibility to a possible course of action.)
Adam Eaton’s hardware chase: In previous years, I never expected the non-pitching Sox to be rewarded for their better defensive seasons. Alexei Ramirez, Gordon Beckham and even the center fielder version of Eaton were floated as contenders, but they didn’t garner the kind of universal acclaim — or metrics — to overcome a lack of name recognition.
With Eaton taking ownership of right field, this is the first time I’d be surprised if a White Sox position player wasn’t recognized for his efforts. He’s running away with the SABR portion, which accounts for 25 percent of the vote.
Jose Abreu’s recovery: Abreu’s OPS is finally back over .800 after a monster August. He hit .362/.414/.648 with eight homers and six doubles. Opposing pitchers were able to rein him in a little with runners in scoring position (.280/.387/.360), and he did have the worst swing of the year in such a situation, but if this is the way he hit earlier in the year, the Sox might have added at the deadline. Looking forward rather than backward, the Sox could use as much evidence that Abreu has righted himself before finalizing their 2017 course.
Tim Anderson’s finish: When you compare projected 2017 Opening Day lineups to the 2016 version, shortstop looks like a huge upgrade. Anderson in place of Jimmy Rollins could change the complexion of the lineup. I want to say should instead of could, but any rookie should be expected to hit bumps in his second year. See ...
Carlos Rodon’s finish: ... for example. He needed a half to put his game together as he got a handle on opponents, his own approach to his first full season and a much smaller strike zone. Tying together an excellent August-September stretch should get fans thinking bigger next season, as long as the Sox front office pays attention to who’s catching him this time.
Carson Fulmer: Fulmer’s MLB career false-started earlier this summer, as Robin Ventura couldn’t find him regular-enough work, in part because the White Sox couldn’t come up with comfortable-enough margins to allow Fulmer to fail in peace. He has since rebounded from his month off and an ugly Triple-A debut, combining to throw a two-hitter over his last two starts (9 IP, 1 R, 1 BB, 9 K). Even if he’s better suited for late-inning bullpen work than starting, there’s a pitcher in there somewhere.
Zack Burdi: I’m mostly sure Burdi will be joining the White Sox in September, although since the original designs were built around a theoretical wild card chase, the absence of anything to play for may have changed the equation. Basically, if the Sox want the Downers Grove Mustang in the bullpen on Opening Day next year, they should call him up now. If they’re uncertain — or if Ventura won’t use him in anything resembling an important situation — they should wait until at least the second half of April. Either one makes sense, and whenever it happens, it’ll be fun to have a 100-mph arm in the bullpen again.
Kevan Smith: Assuming he’s the third catcher, just get him in a game before his back sabotages him again. That’s one White Sox rookie tragedy that can still be salvaged.
Robin Ventura’s future (or lack thereof): The only White Sox manager to survive three full losing seasons is on track to rack up a fourth. His contract is coming to an end, so this situation should end itself, which is apparently the only way things can be done.
This list is by no means conclusive, so share what you're tracking.