Ken Williams saw the same thing you saw the first two months of the season: Bad defense, poor baserunning and inconsistency from the lineup and starting rotation.
“To say we haven’t clicked on all cylinders would be an understatement,’’ the White Sox executive vice president said Monday. “It’s been sloppy. At times it’s been embarrassing.’’
But there is enough baseball left in June, July, August and September to leave Williams believing the Sox, at 23-26, are far from dead and buried in the American League Central. And you’d better believe it, too, Williams advised, if you are part of the Sox organization.
“The good news is we have a lot of baseball players with a lot of heart, we have the talent and we believe we have the drive in these guys to ultimately win the division,’’ Williams said.
“I said during spring training that this team was built for the long run and would grind from Day 1 to 162 and I still believe that.’’
The Sox woke up on the first day of June alone in last place, a place few expected them to occupy after general manager Rick Hahn and Williams patched up the roster with several splashy moves over the winter. But here they are, seven games behind the surprising (and perhaps overachieving) Minnesota Twins (30-19), Kansas City Royals [29-19], Detroit Tigers [28-24] and Cleveland Indians [24-26].
That’s a lot of teams to climb over.
Williams has no doubt it can be done.
“Absolutely,’’ he said. “If anyone in that uniform or anybody around here says it isn’t [attainable] let me know their names. They don’t belong here.’’
Bad defense has troubled Williams more than anything. He was instrumental in bringing in Vince Coleman as a coach to improve the baserunning, but that has also been an eyesore.
“We just need to stop making so many mental mistakes,’’ Williams said. “When you preach aggressiveness and you have a bunch of guys who want to win, they want to be the one to make that great next play, that great next base-running move to get from first to third and score that go-ahead run. The exuberance sometimes gets the best of them. We have to sometimes lay back and let things come to us rather than push the envelope. There’s a fine line, and we haven’t settled into a rhythm of the game just yet. But we better do it quickly.’’
Williams firmly stands behind Robin Ventura, a surprise hire before the 2012 season when he was general manager. One good week in September of 2012 would have given the Sox the AL Central title and made Ventura AL Manager of the Year, he said.
“People make incorrect assumptions about Robin’s will to manage, number one, and his intensity,’’ Williams said. “Those who question it, I can assure them this man wants to be in the dugout, wants to win, wants to improve and has improved.
“He hasn’t gotten any dumber. He has a lot more managerial savvy in him.”
Ventura has made decisions that have opened him to second-guessing, Williams said, but that isn’t unique to him.
“Name your Hall of Famer in the dugout– you’re going to second guess that guy,’’ Williams said.
When the Sox returned home following a four-game sweep in Minnesota that left them with an 8-14 record on May 3, Williams met with general manager Rick Hahn and Ventura to discuss “what was on my mind about individual players. To my delight [Ventura] had already addressed the issues three days before. And that’s what you want from your manager. I can assure all the fans, with he and his coaching staff, nothing slides. If we can’t get the most out of these guys, I firmly believe that we’ve got to change the mix of the guys we have in uniform and on the field – not necessarily change the mix of the coaching staff.’’
Ventura’s calm appearance that is often equated with nonchalance will be viewed as “a steadying force” when the Sox win, Williams said.
“People out there who think he’s not on top of his game and that these coaches are not putting in the effort, intensity and the dialog in trying to win — they are way off base,’’ Williams said.
It was reported that Ventura was asked to be more hands-on with certain players but Williams said “there was a conversation that could be turned around to say that was the directive but it was more the line of question to see just how accountable we were making everyone. Each player, each coach. It’s self-evaluation.
“We asked Robin and the coaches, ‘What can we do in management in terms of more information, analytics in regards to positioning, lineups, personnel. What can we do to make us better? To single out one aspect misses the whole of the conversation.’’
As embarrassing as the 99-loss season of 2013 was, followed by 89 defeats in 2014, this season presents a different sort of chagrin because the Sox were expected to be good.
“We have a lineup that no matter who the pitcher is should compete and battle one through nine and do some damage,’’ Williams said. “We have a little speed at the top and the bottom, a little power in the middle and some good average hitters and base runners. We just haven’t put it all together yet.
“The defensive side has been the source of most of my angst because that’s the thing you can control the most in this game. Catch the ball and throw it where it needs to be thrown and make the right decisions. That has shown signs of getting better, up the middle and on the corners. [Gordon] Beckham has been a steadying force to the infield, it’s nice to have him in the lineup wherever it is. Again, it’s not because we don’t have the talent and ability. We just haven’t put it together yet.’’