All those White Sox fans who didn't come out to watch an exciting mid-summer surge sure missed out on something.
To be sure, the Sox are likely to fall short of the Minnesota Twins once again. Kenny Williams built up a legit 90-win team. The problem is, who expected the Twins to play like a 95-plus victory club with half a rotation, a patched-up bullpen, Justin Morneau waylaid for the second half of the season, and Jim Thome drinking from the fountain of youth?
The season dribbles away even more as this is being written, watching Edwin Jackson endure his worst start with the Sox, the always-pesky Kansas City Royals nibbling him to death with his strikeout stuff non-existent. Every day the Sox don't surge forward is one more distressing day off the calendar to an also-ran finish, even if they somehow manage to sweep the Twins at The Cell in upcoming days.
But what the Sox accomplished this season should not be under-rated. The arrival of Jackson alone solidifies a mid-twentysomething Big Three along with John Danks and Gavin Floyd. And the astounding development of No. 1 draft pick Chris Sale as a 100 mph smoke thrower in late innings comes just in time with the apparent winding down of Bobby Jenks' tenure as closer.
On Saturday, manager Ozzie Guillen said he has little to say how Sale will be used in the future. C'mon, Oswaldo, don't do the Lou Piniella "what can I do?" misdirection play. If a manager cannot jawbone that Sale should stay in the bullpen, he's truly been emasculated. Common sense dictates Guillen, GM Kenny Williams and pitching coach Don Cooper keep Sale exactly where he is. Pitchers who hit the century mark consistently on the radar gun risk everything if they pile up the innings as a starter -- hello, Stephen Strasburg! Sale is better served blowing his No. 1 past hitters in the eighth or ninth, keeping his exposure to 18 to 25 pitches at a time.
The Sox will be strong up the middle in the near future with the double-play combo of Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham, and Alex Rios in center. Finding a capable successor to A.J. Pierzynski behind the plate will be a challenge, though.
So this season permitted the Sox to set themselves up for the future with youngish fixtures in the rotation, bullpen and crucial positions on the field, while still contending. They're in far better shape than their North Side rivals 8 1/2 miles north.
The question is why more Sox fans didn't hop aboard for the entertaining ride as the team transitioned from a slew-footed softball-type team. South Siders are famed for coming out when their team wins. The 26-5 surge at mid-season that vaulted the Sox into first place should have been a blinking neon light attracting them. But the small number of sellouts must be an indication of the damage the economy has wreaked on the sports consumer, combined with the high price of tickets overall. When the Sox are discounting tickets at half price for a Friday-night promotion (you heard that right -- Friday, not Monday), times are indeed tough.
The 2010 campaign has been a winner even if the Sox don't finish first. If fans don't feel good about the future, they don't deserve the effort Guillen and Williams typically provide them.