ARLINGTON, Texas — Everything has come together for the White Sox in this remarkable, unforseen start:
Outstanding starting pitching, an equally strong bullpen, timely hitting and defense that improved from bottom-feeder status last season to one of the best this year.
Overseeing the whole package, as pieced together by general manager Rick Hahn with several key offseason acquisitions, is the same manager who guided the Sox through three consecutive losing seasons.
Only this year, Robin Ventura had to navigate his clubhouse through an unexpected stormy week in spring training when Adam LaRoche famously retired and the players threatened to boycott a game because of it. Ventura had a potentially explosive situation on his hands.
As steady as they come, Ventura led his team through it.
“These players know Robin has their backs,’’ Hahn said Tuesday before the Sox took the best record in the American League into their game against the Texas Rangers. “There is no doubt in my mind about that. And they fight for him. And they want to win for him, as much as they want to win for the guy next to them and the guys on the coaching staff. It’s a very tight, cohesive unit, and Robin at the top of it deserves a world of credit.’’
That said, Hahn made it clear Ventura’s contract that expires at the end of this season is not a topic for discussion now.
“We’re focused right now on winning tonight’s ballgame and not on personnel decisions pertaining to future seasons,” he said. “This club has shown a tremendous team first focus thus far this season, and it doesn’t deserve any distractions that might take away from our collective goals.”
It became clear where Ventura stood with his players when Chris Sale lashed out at vice president Ken Williams for momentarily taking the Sox’ “steam engine” off the rails, as he put it, when Williams told LaRoche to leave his son at home.
It was a potentially volatile situation that settled down within days, thanks in large part to Ventura’s calm, steady hand.
“That’s always been one of his strengths,’’ Hahn said. “He’s the same guy every day. He’s unflappable. You’re not going to see a large degree of volatility out of him in terms of his behavior.’’
Sale, the fiery one with the short fuse, has had his sit-downs and minor run-ins with Ventura in the past. But respect for the manager was never an issue.
“That stability and consistency in his demeanor, players feed off that,’’ Hahn said. “They don’t get a sense of panic from him. They don’t feel a need to press out of the whims of his decision making, he’s going to jeopardize their play time or opportunity. His unflappability and focus on what truly matters on a daily basis has helped get us to this level, despite any distractions along the way.’’
Hahn expected the defense to be better because of Todd Frazier’s and Brett Lawrie’s additions at third base and second base, and Adam Eaton’s willingness to move to right field with the addition of center fielder Austin Jackson. He expected the team to improve from its last-place standing in many offensive categories. But “the way they’ve jelled together” as a unit, exceeded his expectation more than anything.
“We’ve talked about that since a week or 10 days into spring training,’’ Hahn said. “It happened really fast with this group. When you bring in as many players as we have, you don’t know how it will mix together and this group came together quick and bonded tightly quick. There’s been no letup since.
“I think Robin deserves a big tip of the cap. The whole coaching staff does and the players. It’s been a true team effort in terms of everyone in uniform being focused on the same goal. From the start of spring training, having the positive, focused approach to each day, and knowing what we want to accomplish that day.
“Their focus today is the same as it was on opening day, and hopefully it will continue to be that way through October.’’