White Sox’ climb to respectability starts in AL Central

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General manager Rick Hahn’s vision is for more than one championship. He speaks in terms of not one, but multiples, when discussing franchise goals.

A growing disgruntled fan base will settle for one playoff appearance.

Even that seems like a tough nut to crack for a team that hasn’t played in the postseason since 2008, a drought only 11 franchises among the 122 North American pro sports teams (including baseball’s Mariners, Marlins, Padres and Astros) have suffered through longer.

The Sox won the AL Central in ’08, thanks to John Danks’ eight scoreless innings in the tiebreaking “blackout game” won by a 1-0 score over the Twins. Danks calls it the highlight of his career, and he made a point of sharing it with his younger teammates as the season was sinking to another losing venture. Danks’ message? The postseason is what it’s all about, and the Sox need to get their great players like Chris Sale and Jose Abreu to the playoffs.

“When we’re good, the support we get here and just the excitement every day coming to the ballpark, being in contention and being in a position to go to the playoffs, it’s a blast,’’ Danks said. “Hopefully we can feel that next year. It’s definitely disappointing to be done in a couple days.’’

For the Sox, the disappointment begins and ends in a division that has owned them since 2009. Their 4-3 walkoff win over the visiting last-place Detroit Tigers Saturday improved their record in the AL Central to 226-289 during that stretch, their only winning season in the Central during that span coming in 2012 (37-35), manager Robin Ventura’s first year.

While the Sox (76-85) went for it last off-season with a number of splashy free-agent signings and a trade for Jeff Samardzija, Hahn tried to remind that he’s still following a retreat-and-rebuild plan, albeit not a drastic one, that went into place two years ago.

“This really is an on-going process that began in the middle of 2013 when we essentially bottomed out with that club,’’ Hahn said. “We were very clear that we needed to change our personnel and how we approached things.’’

Having Abreu, Adam Eaton, Sale and Jose Quintana locked up for several years, with Carlos Rodon quickly elevating toward their class, and patching up a bullpen are something to build on.

But there’s a long way to go.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us to continue that, and we did not meet our own expectations,’’ Hahn said. “But we still feel we’re in a position where we’re headed in the right direction.

“We need to improve offensively. We didn’t get on base enough, we didn’t hit enough home runs, especially when you consider this ballpark. Our defensive miscues, especially early on, were unacceptable. We’ve already taken some steps to tighten it up and we expect to continue to do that into the off-season. Our baserunning, the mistakes on the bases, are far, far too numerous and not the brand of baseball we want to play.’’

The Sox rank at or near the bottom in most key offensive categories and in defense.

Which is a bigger need to address this offseason?

“You have to do both,’’ Ventura said. “Anytime you don't do one or the other it's not good. Defense looks worse [for a team as a whole] when you don't do it well.“But if you can't score you're not going to win games, either.’’The Sox won Saturday on Leury Garcia’s RBI single that scored J.B. Shuck from second after Shuck drove in the tying run with a pinch double against Neftali Feliz.Erik Johnson allowed two runs (Miguel Cabrera’s two-run homer) over 6 1/3 innings. He received a no-decision but finished with a 3-1 record and 3.34 ERA over six September starts.Rookie Frankie Montas will get an audition for next season when he makes his second start in the season finale Sunday.Follow me on Twitter @CST_soxvan.

Email: dvanschouwen@suntimes.com


Follow me on Twitter @CST_soxvan.

Email: dvanschouwen@suntimes.com

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