Can the Sox contend, Part 2: Dunn's rebound

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Can the Sox contend, Part 2: Dunn's rebound

In part one of this all-hope-is-not-lost series, we looked at how the Sox rotation will set up nicely if Jake Peavy can stay relatively healthy in 2012. Some may think keeping Peavy fresh is a daunting task, but perhaps not as much as the next key to a run at the division next year:

Get Adam Dunn back on track.

Dunn fell into the abyss last year after a decade of consistent tater-mashing, hitting fewer home runs (11) than in any season of his career -- including his 66-game rookie campaign. He was only a handful of at-bats away from posting the lowest single-season batting average in the history of Major League Baseball. And he was rated by FanGraphs as the worst player in the majors by a wide, wide margin.

So what reasons are there to think that Dunn can do much of anything in 2012?

The best statistical argument is that Dunn will experience a simple regression to the mean next season. That is to say, his 2011 season will continue to stand as an outlier. Even now, it's an outlier on Dunn's career trajectory, one that could still have Dunn angling for a Hall of Fame bid.

In plenty of cases, those outlier seasons remain just that -- outliers. Just ask Brady Anderson's 50 home runs in 1996 or Paul Konerko's .704 OPS in 2003. Sometimes, though, an seemingly innocuous outlier turns into a trend, either for good (Jose Bautista) or bad (Richie Sexson).

From a non-statistical standpoint, there are a few things working in Dunn's favor for next season. A new manager and hitting coach can't hurt. An entire offseason to clear his head should help as well. And now that he has a full year of DH'ing under his belt, perhaps Dunn will enter 2012 with a better plan of attack toward the mental aspect of not playing the field.

Consider how different the 2012 White Sox lineup could look like with a mildly successful (we're not talking about 40 home runs and a .380 OBP, think more like 25 home runs and a .340 OBP) Dunn hitting in the middle:

3. Paul Konerko 3. Paul Konerko
4. Adam Dunn 4. Dayan Viciedo
5. Dayan Viciedo 5. Alexei Ramirez? Alex Rios? A.J. Pierzynski?

Essentially, the team's No. 5 hitter -- one of the most important run-producing positions in the lineup -- goes from a hitter with enormous power potential to a handful of low-OBP guys with varying amounts of less-than-15-home-runs-per-season power. It's like replacing a potentially good No. 5 hitter with a bat more suited to hit seventh. That amounts to a huge difference when it comes to supporting a pitching staff.

2012 will be the most important season of Dunn's career. It's his chance to save his legacy and stay on Cooperstown's radar. It's also a chance for him to redeem himself with the White Sox -- because if performs well, maybe, just maybe, the Sox can make some noise in the AL Central.

If the White Sox success next season in pinned on Adam Dunn, that makes you _________. But before defaulting to responding with "horrified," at least consider the optimist's viewpoint.

White Sox first-rounder Zack Collins to start pro career next week

White Sox first-rounder Zack Collins to start pro career next week

ESPN suggested Zack Collins could be the first hitter from this month’s amateur baseball draft to reach the big leagues.

But the first-round pick has been given a few days to decompress before he begins his professional career with the White Sox. Collins spent Saturday morning in the clubhouse, took batting practice with some of his future teammates and threw out the first pitch less than a day after he officially signed with the White Sox. The university of Miami catcher — who received a $3,380,600 signing bonus — will first report to the team’s Glendale, Ariz. facility on July 2 and eventually will start at Single-A Winston-Salem.

“We’re probably going to give him a week or two to catch his breath a little bit,” amateur scouting director Nick Hostetler said. “It’s been a long season for him. We’re probably going to send him to Arizona for a little bit and get his feet under him and then to Winston.”

Collins’ college career ended earlier this week when the Hurricanes were eliminated from the College World Series. He appeared in 62 games and hit .363/.544/.668 with 16 home runs and 59 RBIs. Collins finished the season with 78 walks and 53 strikeouts.

The catcher brought his family with him to Chicago for the weekend and this week he’ll head to Wichita, KS, where he’s one of three finalists for the Johnny Bench Award, which is awarded annually to the nation’s top collegiate catcher.  

“After that I’ll have a couple of days off and head out,” Collins said. “It’s definitely nice (to get a few days off). I pretty much caught every game this year for Miami so it’s nice to get my legs a little rest and get fresh and head out.”

Collins wants to stick at catcher and he thinks he can. But his approach, which ESPN said is the best of the draft, and bat could have Collins to the majors quickly. Of Collins, ESPN’s Keith Law said “he can really hit.”

Collins finished his collegiate career with 177 walks versus 164 strikeouts.

“Patience is key when you’re hitting, Collins said. “Swinging at the right pitches and put the barrel on it and the ball will fly, especially with these big-league balls. Take your walks and get on base and score runs to help the team.”

Zack Burdi, the team’s supplemental first-rounder, also is said to be a fast-mover and potentially could be the first pitcher drafted to reach the majors. Hostetler said the reason Collins and Burdi are ahead of others has as much to do with their mental approach as their skillset.

“They’re advanced from the standpoint not only physically, but mentally,” Hostetler said. “That’s probably the big thing if they can play here. These guys that play here on a nightly basis, they’re wired different between the ears. They have a different mentality about them and both of those kids as well as a couple of the other ones we drafted have that presently and don’t have to develop that. To think you can put it on a 21-year-old kid to pitch here in front of 40,000 a night, it’s a little tough to think about. But I do think they’d be capable of something like that.”

White Sox closer David Robertson will remember 100th save 'for sure'

White Sox closer David Robertson will remember 100th save 'for sure'

It’s very unlikely David Robertson will ever forget how he recorded his 100th save.

To earn it, the White Sox closer had to endure a wild Friday night. Kansas City aside, Friday’s was one of his more chaotic innings of the entire season. Not only did Robertson put himself in a difficult position, he then had to endure against the heart of the Toronto Blue Jays lineup in a one-run game. But somehow Robertson managed his way out of what seemed like an impossible jam to escape to convert his 19th save in 21 tries.

“It’s a high-stress position and I think guys that are able to do that and get numbers like that are very unique,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “At the end it’s whether he got it done or not. Last night he got it done. It’s not the situation he wants to get in, but you have to be able to have the stuff to get out of it. And he has that.”

Robertson needed every ounce of his escape-ability.

Working for the fifth time in six days, Robertson’s inning was disrupted twice by lengthy delays, one for a 3-minute, 20-second replay review and another for a disputed foul ball off Darwin Barney’s bat. Robertson eventually walked Barney and proceeded to load the bases with consecutive singles, including an infield hit by Josh Donaldson.

All of a sudden, Robertson found himself staring down Edwin Encarnacion with red-hot Michael Saunders on deck and only one out.

“You couldn't ask for better guys at the plate,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said.

But in an instant, Robertson found his way out of trouble. He struck out Encarnacion on 3-2 pitch and Saunders harmlessly popped out to shortstop on the first pitch. Instead of lamenting a missed opportunity, Robertson received a congratulatory text from his wife, Erin, who notified him the save was the 100th of his career.

In 21 save opportunities this season, Robertson has a 0.82 ERA as he has allowed two earned runs and 14 hits in 22 innings. He has walked eight, struck out 26 and converted 19 tries.

“I definitely made it exciting out there,” Robertson said. “I wasn’t helping myself out much. It was a tough one, it was a grind. I was giving them everything I had and I felt like I was very fortunate to escape that inning without giving up a run.

“It would have been a lot of nicer if it was 1-2-3. I’ll remember that one for sure.”

Todd Frazier's late RBI single lifts White Sox past Blue Jays

Todd Frazier's late RBI single lifts White Sox past Blue Jays

The White Sox haven’t had much success with runners in scoring position of late. Todd Frazier hasn’t had much all season long.

But Frazier’s two-out RBI single in the eighth inning Friday night broke a tie and the White Sox held on for a 3-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays in front of 27,196 at U.S. Cellular Field. The victory was the fourth in five games for the White Sox, who improved to 37-37. Frazier’s hit was the only one with a runner in scoring position in 14 tries for a team that entered the game hitting .245 in those situations. He finished 2-for-4.

Though Frazier has provided the White Sox with plenty of thump, he’s had a trying season with runners in scoring position. He entered his eighth-inning at-bat with Jesse Chavez just 9-for-61 with two home runs and 23 RBIs with runners in scoring position, including a third-inning ground out. But Frazier got a 1-1 fastball from Chavez and ripped it into left field to put the White Sox ahead and end a frustrating night for the offense, particularly the bottom of the order.

The White Sox had left a man in scoring position in all but one inning up until that point. They tied the game at 1 in the fourth inning on an RBI groundout by Avisail Garcia and pulled ahead in the fifth on a solo homer by Melky Cabrera, who went 3-for-4 against his former team.

Prior to Frazier’s single, Cabrera grounded out to first as Edwin Encarnacion made a spectacular stop and fell down in foul territory. Tim Anderson, who doubled and went to third on a fly ball, didn’t advance on the play. But Frazier made it all moot.

Carlos Rodon had another strong outing, though he surrendered the lead right before he exited.

Rodon struck out eight and tamed a red hot offense for 5 2/3 innings. The left-hander fell behind 1-0 in the second inning and looked as if he may be in trouble before escaping the jam with a strikeout of Junior Lake to strand two. That began a stretch in which Rodon retired 11 of 14 batters and allowed the White Sox to rally for a 2-1 lead.

But Rodon couldn’t hold it, in part because of a sixth-inning balk call by first-base ump Angel Hernandez that earned pitching coach Don Cooper an ejection. Rodon hit Michael Saunders to start the sixth and he advanced on the balk and tagged up on a fly out to center. The extra 90 feet became critical when Kevin Pillar’s infield single tied it. Todd Frazier made a diving stop on the play at first base and Rodon took one too many steps to tag first base just behind the slide of Pillar.

Rodon allowed two earned runs and six hits with two walks.

The White Sox bullpen picked up the slack. Matt Albers, Nate Jones and Zach Duke combined for 2 1/3 scoreless innings to get the ball to Robertson. Robertson then pitched out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam for his 19th save in 21 tries.