White Sox Season Is Hard To Fathom For Guillen

Monday, October 1st 2007, 2:38 pm
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) _ The clubhouse resembled an airport terminal. Bags and boxes everywhere with players rushing around, all trying to get away as quickly as possible.

Less than an hour after the final game of a stunningly bad season, the Chicago White Sox couldn't wait to put 2007 behind them, couldn't wait to separate themselves from the misery of the previous six months.

Out the door they went.

``Thank God, we're done with this nightmare,'' manager Ozzie Guillen said. ``It was a bad dream.''

A collapse is what it was. From World Series champs in 2005 to 90 wins in 2006 to a 72-90 record.

What went wrong? Better yet: What didn't?

Guillen beat a path to the pitcher's mound in the late innings as his bullpen _ with the exception of closer Bobby Jenks _ walked batters, gave up plenty of hits and blew numerous leads.

Matt Thornton, Mike MacDougal and Ryan Bukvich all struggled in late innings, the bullpen blew 23 saves, had a 19-25 record and an ERA of 5.49. Jenks was the only constant. He had 40 saves in 46 chances during a season in which he tied a major league record by retiring 41 straight batters at one point.

The strong offensive lineup the White Sox envisioned didn't produce as expected. Paul Konerko (.259, 31 HRs) and Jermaine Dye (.254, 28 HRs) were among those who had sub-par seasons, even though they hit their share of home runs.

And when Chicago got off to a slow start with the bats, it fell into an early hole by June 1 and spent most of the season flailing to get out.

Consider this: the White Sox were outscored 839-693, with the 146-run differential the largest for the team since 1976. They struck out a club-record 1,149 times and the team's .246 average was its lowest since batting .244 in 1988.

Jim Thome hit 35 homers and joined the 500-homer club, while his .275 batting average was the team's highest _ the first time since 1988 the White Sox did not have a player hit at least .280. And for the first time since 1990, Chicago failed to have a 100-RBI man in its lineup as Thome missed by four.

The starting rotation was inconsistent. Javier Vazquez had standout season with a 15-8 record, but former ace Jose Contreras was 10-17. Mark Buehrle pitched a no-hitter but went 10-9 and Jon Garland, an 18-game winner in each of the previous seasons, finished 10-13.

Throw in injuries to third baseman Joe Crede, who needed back surgery and played only 47 games, Scott Podsednik, Darin Erstad and Pablo Ozuna and the White Sox were fighting to stay out of the AL Central basement with terrible stretches of baseball.

Finishing in fourth and 24 games behind AL Central winner Cleveland, the White Sox endured one slump in which they lost 13 of 15 games and another in which they dropped 22 of 27.

Guillen predicted a crucial offseason for general manager Ken Williams and assistant Rick Hahn. The team has its organizational meetings in less than two weeks.

``I know it is going to be a long winter for the White Sox organization to put this thing back together, put it back on top,'' Guillen said.

Williams has already made a couple of moves, giving contract extensions to Guillen, Buehrle, Dye and catcher A.J. Pierzynski.

The White Sox must figure out the health of Crede and whether rookie Josh Fields, who hit 23 homers, will be moved from third to left field next season to accommodate him.

With the emergence of speedy center fielder Jerry Owens as a leadoff hitter and base stealer, Podsednik is not expected back. There are also club options for 2008 on talented and unpredictable shortstop Juan Uribe and Erstad.

Williams promises the White Sox will be serious players in the free-agent market if moves are fiscally sound, or will try to improve through trades. And fixing his troublesome bullpen could be tough because as Williams points out, every team is looking for strong reliable arms as relievers. The White Sox thought they had addressed that last offseason.

``It felt like during April we were on the right track and then the wheels fell off, for whatever reason, and then we got out of sync,'' Williams said.

``It's difficult to put our finger exactly on what has transpired. We never imagined coming out of spring training that offensively at the end of the year, we would talk about being ranked at or near the bottom in many categories. With the talent we have, that's a little perplexing.''

But he's apparently not ready for wholesale changes. He's kept the White Sox's core intact, so far, with the extensions for Dye, Buehrle, Pierzynski and with Konerko and Thome already under contract.

``Guys are going to have off years. But it's not a slide in talent,'' Williams said.

Guillen said he took responsibility for the poor season. Williams said it was his fault because he put the personnel on the field.

Everyone, though, had a role.

``It would be hard for me to pick one thing and say we have to get better at this. We have to get better in the bullpen, but offensively we struggled. Defensively we struggled. I think the starting rotation did a pretty good job, good enough to win more games,'' Guillen said.

``We failed all the way from the top to the bottom. We failed from (owner) Jerry Reinsdorf all the way to the bat boy. Everyone failed this year, hopefully next year we turn around and do a better job.''