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Expect more from 2014 White Sox

Alexei Ramirez has had his defensive issues with the Chicago White Sox this year, but his offense has been superb.

At this point of the season, the Chicago White Sox were supposed to have their eyes fixed on catching the Detroit Tigers, not the Minnesota Twins.

But the 2013 season has been anything but according to the book for the White Sox. As well as the pieces fell together for the Sox in 2012, things have been that much out of whack for the South Siders this year. A team that was first in the American League in fielding percentage for 2012, committing just 70 errors throughout the whole season, has already committed 91 errors with still a month to go in this season.

Alexei Ramirez has had his defensive issues with the Chicago White Sox this year, but his offense has been superb.

Alexei Ramirez has had his defensive issues with the Chicago White Sox this year, but his offense has been superb.

For a team that combined power hitting with great pitching and outstanding defense to be three games up on the Tigers in September 2012 has put the three elements together all to infrequently this year.

No one expected the offense to be on a bar with last year, with catcher A.J. Pierzynski departing for Texas and clutch hitter Kevin Youkilis heading to New York, but no one expected shutout after shutout either.

The mid-season departure of hitting stalwart Alex Rios and gritty pitcher Jake Peavy signaled the official rebuilding of the White Sox. But the Sox didn’t totally clean house as many observers expected. Whether the team had no takers for some of the veterans’ salaries or the Sox brass don’t want to go through the growing pains of a total youth movement, some bigger names – notably Adam Dunn and Alexei Ramirez – are still in White Sox pinstripes.

Looking to the future, this year’s second-half performance of the retooled South Siders raises glimmers of hope. The Sox, who for awhile seemed like they would compete with the Houston Astros for the first pick in the amateur draft, have been playing very good baseball as of late and bringing back a sense of excitement to the South Side, even though crowds of 17,000 people and below wouldn’t seem to say so. The Sox have a good shot at overtaking the Twins in the final weeks of the season and suddenly are in contention to not have the worst record in Chicago. (As of Monday, they were 1 1/2 games behind their crosstown rivals, the Cubs.)

While the defense has been a nightmare this season, the offense has showed promise. Conor Gillaspie is triggering comparisons to a young Joe Crede. Avisail Garcia, who came to the Sox in the three-team deal that sent Peavy to Boston, has all the tools to be a longtime star in the Windy City. Alexei Ramirez has been just pounding the ball and putting up excellent offensive numbers, even if he has been a sieve this year defensively. Alejandro De Aza provides plenty of pop, but it remains to be seen if lead-off is the best spot for him. He continues to strike out way too much and doesn’t take enough pitches for a lead-off man.

The pitching staff, led by Chris Sale, seems well-rounded, although the arsenal of lefty starters probably will be broken up sometime soon. Sale continues to mature and seems to have a fine career in front of him at the top of the Sox rotation. The relief crew, anchored by closer Addison Reed, seems well-positioned for the short and long term for the South Siders.

It is hard to imagine the Sox bringing free agent Paul Konerko back after this difficult season for him and the club. Dunn’s second-half batting average surge may be enough to keep him in Chicago, especially if the Sox part ways with fan-favorite Konerko. If Dunn can keep his average in the .230s or .240s, Sox fans and brass will take his plethora of strikeouts that go along with the long balls.

It is also hard to see either Tyler Flowers or Josh Phlegley as the White Sox catcher of the present or future, but one or both may get another shot to win the starting job next year, if no other contenders emerge. A free agent catcher, like All-Star Brian McCann, may get some interest from Sox executives.

While this season has been painful to watch for Sox fans, there is hope for a much more productive 2014 – when the Sox should again be taking aim at Tigers and not Twins.

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