The White Sox and closer turnover

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The White Sox and closer turnover

Only four closers in baseball -- Brian Wilson, Carlos Marmol, Joakim Soria and Mariano Rivera -- have finished off games for two years or more with the same team. Half of baseball will open 2012 with a new ninth-inning guy, including the White Sox.

That may seem startling, but there are two perfectly good explanations for that kind of turnover: The up-and-down nature of closer performance and the high cost of paying for premium talent.

A typical closer will throw 60-70 innings per season, which is a number that is quite prone to luck-fueled fluctuations. One bad stretch can cast a pall on an entire season, and it's rare to find a pitcher who is good enough to sustain a high level of success closing games over a three or four-year span.

The White Sox had that in Bobby Jenks. From the back end of 2005 through 2009, Jenks was reliable as a game-finisher, although he began to slip in 2009 after putting up elite seasons in 2006 and 2007. Even when he saved 27 of 31 games in 2010, his season was deemed a failure.

Before Jenks, the Sox didn't have much stability in the ninth inning. And it didn't matter. Shingo Takatsu was marvelous in 2004, saving 19 of 20 games after Billy Koch failed to rebound after a miserable 2003.

When Takatsu fell apart in 2005, Dustin Hermanson stepped in and saved 34 games for the eventual World Champions. And then when Hermanson ran into some injury issues, Jenks -- a former top prospect who had a high-profile flameout with the Angels -- stepped in and saved the game that won the Sox their first title in 88 years.

Not everyone can be a closer -- there's a certain ability to forget a bad game, a loss that seemingly falls directly on your shoulders, that isn't found in every pitcher. That being said, serviceable closers have proven to be fairly easy to find. It's just that if your team doesn't have one, all of a sudden it becomes your most glaring weakness.

But going into a season without certainty in the ninth inning -- as the Sox have done the last two years now -- is something that quite a few teams are doing. Despite the availability of cheap, young power arms with the ability to close, plenty of teams still pay out the nose for closers.

Philadelphia didn't need to pay Jonathan Papelbon 50 million. Miami probably didn't need to include Heath Bell in their spending spree. Both those guys may work out, but both teams probably could've found options who could produce similar results for a fraction of the cost.

Kenny Williams hasn't sought out a high-priced closer since Koch bombed in 2003 and 2004. He and the White Sox have handled the ninth inning perfectly, seeking options on the cheap and spending their money elsewhere.

If Matt Thornton struggles as the team's closer, the Sox have Addison Reed waiting in the wings. If Reed struggles, Jesse Crain is there. And down the road, power arms like Jacob Petricka, Simon Castro or even Jeff Soptic could be in line for a ninth-inning role.

Of course, even a short stretch of blown saves might be enough to lead some to call for the Sox to sign someone to a Jonathan Papelbon-type contract. They'd be smart to avoid that, and if recent history is an indication, they won't go that route.

Chris Sale ties career-high 17 wins as White Sox power past Rays

Chris Sale ties career-high 17 wins as White Sox power past Rays

Chris Sale had no trouble earning his 17th win of the season, tying his career-high set in 2012, in what may have been his final start of the season.

Sale pitched seven innings and recorded seven strikeouts as the White Sox offense powered past the Tampa Bay Rays 13-6 on Tuesday night at U.S. Cellular Field.

Sale also allowed three earned runs on eight hits and no walks. It was Sale’s 16th career game with at least seven strikeouts and no walks — a franchise record by a wide margin —according to CSN’s stat guru Chris Kamka.

"I feel as good now as I ever have on a baseball field, physically," Sale said. "I think this year was the best overall in terms of feeling strong at the end and still having more in the tank."

"I’ve said it a lot of times before and I can’t stress to you enough, how awesome the people I have in my corner helping me get back out there every fifth day. That starts in the offseason. It trickles into spring training. I thought we had a really good spring training mindset in getting just enough to where you feel good and this is what we wanted.

"We wanted me to feel good at the end of the year. I think we accomplished that goal. Unfortunately it’s for nothing, but it still is what it is."

Sale said his goal this season was to eat up innings and go deeper into games to help out his bullpen. He's done just that, having worked 221.2 innings this season, extending his career high.

"We went into this year knowing what we were going to get ourselves into," Sale said. "Just trying to do something better for the long haul and looking back, I got burned a couple of times. Just like anybody, though. It’s not to say I wouldn’t have done the same thing in previous years. So, you just make some adjustments and go forward."

With five games left, Ventura hasn’t decided if Sale will make one more start before the 2016 campaign ends — or even in a White Sox uniform. 

Sale reiterated that he'd like to be back in Chicago next season, but it's not up to him.

"I can’t say this from experience, but I don’t think there’s probably a better feeling than winning with the team that drafted you and staying with the team that drafted you," Sale said. "Talking with Paulie (Konerko) a little bit in his final year, he definitely had some very good things to say about staying with one team and being here from start to finish. All of that going into it, yeah. But this is baseball, this is sports. You can’t always choose and pick what you want to do or where you want to be."

The White Sox extended their winning streak to four games. The last time they won four consecutive games was July 23-26 against the Cleveland Indians and Cubs. The White Sox had winning streaks of at least four games three times in their first 33 games of the season.

Eaton went 2-for-5 with two runs, an RBI and a double in his return to the lineup after missing three games with an injury.

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Tim Anderson got things started with an RBI single in the first and RBI double in the second. Anderson also added a solo homer in the eighth inning.

Melky Cabrera hit his 14th homer of the season in the first, bumping his RBI total to 82 on the year, five shy from his career-high.

In the third, Leury Garcia smacked his first homer of the year, a three-run shot to left-center field to extend the White Sox lead to 8-2. Two more runs were scored in the fifth on a fielder’s choice and an error. Jason Coats, pinch-hitting for Justin Morneau, and Todd Frazier each had an RBI single in the eighth.

Sale issued a two-run double to former White Sox infielder Alexei Ramirez in the second and a homer to Curt Casali in the fourth.

If roster stays the same, Adam Eaton believes White Sox can compete in 2017

If roster stays the same, Adam Eaton believes White Sox can compete in 2017

This season hasn’t exactly turned out the way the White Sox had hoped.

The White Sox took Major League Baseball by storm after beginning the season at 23-10, which led the American League Central by six games at the time.

But since then, the White Sox have been climbing an uphill battle. They lost 20 of their next 26 games and found themselves fighting to stay above .500.

The White Sox brought in reinforcements in an effort to get their season back on track, adding designated hitter Justin Morneau (via free agency), veteran pitcher James Shields (via trade from San Diego Padres) and 23-year-old shortstop Tim Anderson (Triple-A Charlotte). 

But the White Sox still couldn’t make things click.

“I think you learn how guys struggle and how they try and get out of it,” said manager Robin Ventura. “You see guys that continue to grind through it and try to find it. Some guys find it quicker than other guys. I think the biggest thing is their ability to grind through it.”

The White Sox were officially eliminated from the postseason last Friday and will finish with their fourth straight losing season.

What happens over the offseason remains a mystery. It’s uncertain how their opening roster will look like next season.

If little changes are made, Adam Eaton believes the White Sox can still be contenders in 2017.

“There is a lot of talent here,” Eaton said. “There are a lot of good baseball players in here. It’s not the year we thought. And I think with that exact quote, ‘It’s not the year that we thought,’ if we brought the guys back I think we might have the year we thought we would have.

“The camaraderie is great in here. It’s tough to say whether people will be leaving or whether additions will be added. I’m sure moves will be made. In the game of baseball, there’s never an offseason that’s quiet, I feel like. Whatever Rick (Hahn) and the organization sees would be more functional for this team to be better and more consistent on a day-to-day basis, then that’s what they see in the team.

“If I’m in those plans, great. If not, then it kind of stinks. But if they want me in this uniform next year, I’ll be proud to wear it and I’ll put everything I have on the field again like I did this year.”

Time will tell which direction the White Sox decide to go in. Will they continue to add immediate impact players and build around the same group? Make a few tweaks? Or perhaps even tear it all down and start from scratch?

One thing is for sure, it will be a busy offseason for the White Sox one way or another.

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If the White Sox decide to make any drastic changes like trade Chris Sale — who was a hot topic of discussion around the trade deadline — Eaton knows exactly what he'd do if they faced one another.

“Take the day off,” Eaton said. “No, I don’t want to give away too much because I hope I’m never on that side. Just see ball, hit ball. Be simple. Have a simple approach off him because he can make you look foolish at times. Just have a good competitive at-bat.

“But like I said, easier said than done. He’s made a lot of people look foolish. I hope I’ll never have to do that, to be honest with you. I’d love to be on his team for the rest of my life.”