Seven things we've learned: Just win, baby

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Seven things we've learned: Just win, baby

Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011Posted: 3:30 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com White Sox InsiderFollow @CSNChi_Beatnik
Ten times this season, CSNChicago will submit a Chicago White Sox report card of sorts for your approval.Sadly, todays missive from Kansas City will be the final true 13 Things of the 2011 season and with no offense to Ozzie and his beloved No. 13 uniform, lets switch up the luck with things and just trim the traditional list down to a lucky seven this time around. Toward the very end of the year, Ill put together 13 highlights and lowlights of the season, just to wrap things up.

But still, weve learned many things about this ballclub, and with team on a season high-tying seven-game losing skid, they are increasingly not so good things. So, White Sox fans, cinch it up and scroll down

1. No one will truly take the blame

In Kansas City, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen has come out endorsing the job his bosses have done, advising fans not to blame GM Ken Williams or owner Jerry Reinsdorf for this lost, All-In season. But the manager also offers that as much as he and his coaching staff and players are to blame for what it hurtling toward a sub-.500 season, theres nothing hed do differently in 2011.

Williams has mostly disappeared from sight as the early swoon settled into season-long malaise. He largely acquitted himself back in July after advising Guillen to field a lineup according to performance, not salary, tacitly approving the benchings of underperforming, monied players like Adam Dunn and Alex Rios.

In the end, everyone in the organization bears responsibility for the disaster that became 2011. Whether any of the primary figures step forward to fully man up for the failure is another question.
2. September swoons have become an Ozzie trademark

This season, the White Sox are 5-12 to begin September, which has included two crushing sweeps at the hand of Central champion Detroit, losing 9 12 games in the standings since Aug. 31. But such swooning is not rare for Guillens White Sox. While the manager has averaged an 85-77 season in his eight years in charge of the White Sox, hes 105-106 overall in September. Ironically, the only season in which his club hasnt been swept at least once in September is the forgettable 2007 campaign, when Chicago finished with a 15-12 kick but entered the month 21 12 games out.

Even in 2005, when the White Sox started the month with a seven-game winning streak and appeared in commanding position to suffocate the rest of the Central, the team fell into a 4-10 tailspin that shrunk its division lead form 7 12 to 1 12 games.

Here are the dirty details:

2004 - White Sox go 17-12 in September, swept by Minnesota Twins.
2005 - White Sox go 17-12, swept by Los Angeles Angels and see lead shrink to 1 12 games before running off five wins to end the season and 16 of 17 to end the season as World Series champs.
2006 - White Sox go 12-16, including a sweep by the Oakland As.
2007 - White Sox go 15-12 and avoid a sweep but finish at 72-90 and in fourth place.
2008 - White Sox go 12-15 in September in what becomes a war of attrition with the fading Twins. The White Sox won three straight games to end the season as Central champs, but lost five straight, including being swept out of first place on September 25 by the Twins to create such dire straits.
2009 - White Sox go 13-14 and are swept by the Twins.
2010 - White Sox go 14-13 and are swept by the Twins and Tigers, essentially eliminating them from the division race.
2011 - White Sox are 5-12 and will have to go 10-1 in the home stretch to finish better than .500 for the month. Two sweeps by Detroit nailed the coffin shut on the 2011 season.
3. Guillen needs to bow his neck

Related to the September swooning or not, Guillen must take more ownership of his teams performance. His explanation that he pilots a veteran club has merit and is not an excuse but there has to be an accountability trickle-down through coaches or veteran players. Someone has to answer for all the September faltering, and in lieu of someone else doing offering it up, Ozzie must supply an answer.

4. Times running short for Danks

Its not to say that John Danks wont be due for yet another arbitration raise despite a down season (6-12, 4.36 ERA), because he will. My value analysis says that even including his 0-11, 6.28 ERA every day this season not between June 6 and Aug. 27, Danks has provided a surplus value of 2.5 million to the White Sox in 2011 and thus, technically, underpaid.

However, for the sake of those scoreboard stats like W-L record and ERA, it behooves Danks to have a strong start on Sunday vs. Kansas City and good finale in a projected Sept. 24 vs. the Royals. Theres still room for him to pull his ERA back to sub-4.00 and push his overall surplus value to the White Sox to the 4 million level. And a boost like that could mean extra millions in any extension offer from the White Sox, or long-term offers from every team after the 2012 season.

5. Buehrle, too

Mark Buehrle has had a typically strong season, as arguably the best Chicago starter (Id submit Phil Humber a shade better). But boy, his September is doing him no favors: a 12.00 ERA, 2.54 WHIP and 18.3 average game score compared with 3.101.2254.2 from April through August.

Buehrle has the credentials to earn another big contract after the season, as hes essentially been worth every penny of his most recent four-year, 56 million deal, and then some. But the concerns over the veterans declining stamina, as his struggles through September have fueled, could round down some of the offers out there. The only way to stave off teams legitimate worries about Buehrles stretch runs is for the lefty to spin a strong start at Cleveland on Wednesday and drive the point home in a projected finale on Sept. 27.

6. Of central concern is the Central

We heard a lot in the spring about the White Sox needing to beat the opponents closest to them in 2011, those four dastardly AL Central clubs. But after a 32-40 in 2010, the White Sox are wheezing along those same lines this season, currently at 28-36. Intradivisional foes are no more fearsome than they were a year ago Detroit tags in for Minnesota this season as the division champ and having started 7-13 in a September that is essentially a long intradivisional finale, its shaping up to be a second straight year of doleful drubbings from the Central.

It would be different if the White Sox played poorly against everyone else, but they are near .500 against the tough East (15-19) and 19-16 against the West. Toss in an 11-7 mark against the National League, and the troubles are pretty easy to diagnose: Beat the Central. How to do so is another question.

7. Morels month is no mirage

As tempting as it might be to write Brent Morel off as a September wonder (an AL second-best six homers in the month and 12 RBIs in his last 18 games, he is getting stronger at a time when it would be easy for a young player to falter. His OPS is still just .652, but for a player who wasnt going to be counted on for his offense this season to be outperforming Dunn, Rios, and even fellow young infielder Gordon Beckham, those numbers arent bad at all.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox information.

How Jose Quintana's silent leadership resonated with Michael Kopech

How Jose Quintana's silent leadership resonated with Michael Kopech

He absorbed a ton of information in spring camp, but perhaps it’s what Michael Kopech observed watching Jose Quintana that could help most.

For five weeks in big league camp, the extremely motivated White Sox pitching prospect gleaned every piece of information he could from more experienced teammates.

Kopech and veteran starting pitcher James Shields discussed pitch sequencing and the importance of the changeup. Infielder Tyler Saladino talked with the No. 14-ranked prospect in baseball about visualizing success. Catcher Geo Soto told Kopech pretty much everything about life in the majors.

But even though he didn’t say much, Quintana’s practice sessions may have provided the most valuable lesson of all. The key takeaway, Kopech said, is how Quintana performs every action with a purpose. The young pitcher knows how critical the example Quintana provided is to his development and wants to implement a similar approach.

“(Pitching coach Don Cooper) likes to call it focused practice,” Kopech said. “For me that’s one thing I haven’t done well, is get locked in. You have to be locked in all the time. That’s something that came from Coop and all the big leaguers I was around. Quintana is a great guy to watch when it comes to stuff like that.

“That’s a guy that is a definition of a silent leader. He doesn’t talk about much. He goes and gets his work in and you can just watch him and know that’s the way the game should be played.”

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Kopech took a nice step forward in his development on Tuesday night when he pitched a season-high six scoreless innings for Double-A Birmingham. He struck out eight and allowed a hit while walking four and lowered his ERA to 2.50. The Texas native had only compiled 12 innings in his previous three outings because of “hit-and-miss” fastball command that led to 10 walks.

Along with perfecting his fastball command, one of the keys to Kopech reaching the majors is an increase in workload. Kopech — the 33rd overall pick of the 2014 draft — has never pitched more than 78 2/3 combined innings he produced last season. The White Sox would love for Kopech to reach the 180-inning mark by 2019.

“He doesn’t have a lot of innings under his belt,” player development director Chris Getz said. “He hasn’t been able to have that build up so that’s something we’re going to make sure he can focus on. We’re going to make sure he’s in the right spot so we can do that properly.”

In order for Kopech to eventually hit that mark, he’d need to pitch between 110-130 innings this season and then throw around 160 innings in 2018. But to reach those figures, Kopech must first pitch deeper into games.

Through his first three starts, Kopech worked on a strict pitch count that varied based on performance. If he was on, he could throw as many as 85 pitches. But if he ran into command issues, Kopech might only throw 75.

On Tuesday, Kopech pitched well enough to throw 95 pitches (65 strikes) against the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp. He thinks the key to consistency in games is directly tied to his effort in between. It’s yet another area where Kopech — who reads self-help books, is into Cryotherapy and salt baths and eats meals on the road pre-prepared by his nutritionist — strives to improve.

“From Day 1 to Day 4, you need to be just as focused as Day 5,” Kopech said. “I can’t stress that enough. If my bullpen tomorrow I lose a little focus, then I know I need to get right back into it to prepare for my next start. That’s something that’s going to have to kick in sooner than later.”

Birmingham manager Julio Vinas likes how Kopech has handled himself early in the season. Vinas thinks Kopech has the proper mindset and tools to be a special pitcher.

‘He’s got the right mentality and now it’s executing and it’s going to be there,” Vinas said.

He may have been there this spring, but Kopech preferred to not be seen or heard by his veteran teammates. Kopech couldn’t do anything about the onslaught of attention the media paid to him after he came over with Yoan Moncada in the Chris Sale trade. But he could control the rest of his time around teammates. Little by little, he’d engage the veterans without drawing too much attention.

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“I just didn’t want to make it about me,” Kopech said. “It was my first big league camp and a lot of those guys are getting ready for a big league season and I’m competing for a job that’s not necessarily on a big league roster right away. I was just trying to take care of my business. All ears, not really any talk and take away as much as I could without pissing anybody off, really.

“I got the chance to face some good hitters and take away a lot of knowledge from older guys and I think that’s the best I could do to prepare for the season.”

But Kopech agrees the best preparation came from watching Quintana, who Cooper always lauds for his practice effort. Kopech hopes to be able to emulate how the 2016 All-Star pitcher handles himself soon enough.

Kopech thought he focused well from the second through the fourth inning in an April 20 start at Tennessee. But he wasn’t as pleased with his effort in the first and fifth innings.

“That’s the way I want to lock in when I’m on the mound,” Kopech said of Quintana. “I haven’t been doing that, but it’s something I’m going to work on going forward.

“I have to remind myself to stay locked in even though I’m doing what I always do because I need to have the same focus (in practice) I do when I’m pitching on the mound.”

Jose Abreu hopes to be ready for White Sox next game after leaving with injury

Jose Abreu hopes to be ready for White Sox next game after leaving with injury

Jose Abreu said he hopes to be ready to go when the White Sox start their series against the Detroit Tigers on Friday.

The White Sox first baseman took an awkward-looking fall on the infield grass while trying to field a grounder in the fifth inning of Wednesday’s win over the visiting Kansas City Royals, leaving the game with what the team announced as a mild right hip flexor strain. Abreu was labeled as day-to-day.

Manager Rick Renteria didn’t have any sort of update after the game — though he said he didn't think it was serious — but in his comments to reporters, Abreu said he felt fine after receiving treatment and will be ready to go for Friday’s series opener in Detroit.

“I feel good right now,” Abreu said. “I got treatment and I feel good. The day off tomorrow is going to help and I hope to be ready for the first game in Detroit.”

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Both Renteria and Abreu said the first baseman had no desire to exit Wednesday’s game but that Renteria was being appropriately cautious.

“He did not want to come out,” Renteria said. “He was pretty adamant but I think all of us, you don't take any chances. I think it was just the right thing to do at that time.”

“When you are on the field, you didn’t want to leave the field. It doesn’t matter what’s the reason or what’s happening,” Abreu said. “But he’s the boss and he made that decision and you have to accept it.”

Abreu went 2-for-2 with a two-out RBI double in the first inning Wednesday before he left. He has had two hits in each of his last four games and is 8-for-15 during the White Sox current four-game winning streak.

The White Sox are off Thursday. The team said Abreu will be reevaluated then after arriving in Detroit.