Chicago White Sox: 5 Reasons Why the Franchise Will Win or Lose the AL Central

Jim Poljak@@JimPoljakContributor IIIAugust 10, 2011

Chicago White Sox: 5 Reasons Why the Franchise Will Win or Lose the AL Central

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    This has been one of the most trying and emotionally exhausting seasons for White Sox fans in recent memory. On paper, this is a team that should steamroll the American League Central and be a serious contender for the AL pennant. Instead, they have been a team mired in mediocrity with more ups and downs than a roller coaster at Six Flags.

    The plight of the White Sox fan is whether to stay the course and maintain the belief that the team will come to its baseball sense and start playing like they are capable, or make like the women and children of the Titanic and abandon ship.

    For the optimistic minority that believe their beloved can overcome the Tigers and Indians, and the pessimistic majority that have turned their focus to the NFL and their upcoming fantasy football drafts, here are the five deciding factors that will determine if the White Sox will be chanting "Winner Winner Chicken Dinner" or if their failure to win will have fans holding their heads in pain saying, "That's Gonna Leave a Mark."

5. Kenny Williams

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    Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!

    Kenny Williams isn't the type to sit back and do nothing. Sure, he was relatively quiet at the trade deadline this year, but that doesn't mean he won't go big at the waiver wire if there is a player available who he thinks will put the White Sox over the top. He is always looking to make the next big deal and isn't afraid to deal the future to win now. If there's a player to get or a move to be made, Kenny Williams will find a way to get it done.

    That's Gonna Leave a Mark

    Kenny Williams' propensity to use the White Sox minor league system as tradeable pieces has left almost nothing in reserves to help the team down the stretch. Their offense has been mediocre all season and the only player that could maybe help them, Dayan Viciedo, has been dealing with a thumb injury for the last few weeks. The money invested in Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and Jake Peavy has not returned the dividends as expected and the Sox have struggled all season as a result.

4. Adam Dunn

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    Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!

    Adam Dunn cannot possibly stay this bad for the rest of the season. He has been too good, too consistent for his entire career to not get something going for the last two months of the season. The strikeouts will still be there and the final numbers will still say his season was a bust, but if he can just get warm then the White Sox will have their left-handed power to sandwich between their two all-stars, Paul Konerko and Carlos Quentin.

    That should give the Sox enough offense to make it out of the AL Central. If Dunn gets hot, then the Sox will be able to fulfill preseason expectations and make a run at the AL Championship.

    That's Gonna Leave a Mark

    One of the main reasons the White Sox have not been able to win consistently this season is their lack of offense. Adam Dunn was signed to a very lucrative off-season deal to hit like he has his entire career. He's yet to do it, and probably won't for the remainder of the year. Dunn's failure to hit more home runs than his age (he's 31) will ultimately doom the White Sox' chances at playing in October.

3. Talent

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    Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!

    On paper the White Sox have the most talent of any team in the AL Central. They have nine former or current all-stars on their roster, led by their captain Paul Konerko, the deepest pitching staff, and should have the most prolific offense in the division. 

    One of the great things about baseball is the length of the season. 162 games allows for the teams with the most talent to figure it out and prove their worth. The White Sox are a team of professionals that have won at the major league level. If they start to play up to their talent level then there is no reason they shouldn't make baseball's second season.

    That's Gonna Leave a Mark

    There's a cliche that rings true every season in every professional sport: "That's why they play the games." Sure, the White Sox are the most talented team on paper, but that doesn't mean it will translate into a winning season.

    Based on performance this year, you could easily argue that they're just as talented as Detroit and Cleveland and have failed to play to their potential. Maybe counting on an inconsistent Alex Rios, an aging Juan Pierre and an oft-injured Jake Peavy isn't the best plan. It looks like the guys Kenny and Ozzie are counting on are past the productive points of their career and are the reason the Sox will miss the playoffs for the third straight season.

2. Pitching

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    Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!

    I'm a firm believer that pitching and defense wins championships. If you can throw it and catch it better than your opponent, then you have a much greater chance of winning the series and having a season you can be proud of. Currently, the White Sox don't just have the best pitching in the AL Central, but they are amongst the best in baseball.

    They have a young but proven starting rotation that keeps them in every game, minus a hiccup here and there, and one of the strongest bullpens around. They have been able to go with a six-man rotation all season long, even after trading one of their opening day starters right before the deadline. Pitching Coach Don Cooper has proven to be "Miracle Max" with talented hurlers that have failed to live up to their previous potential (Gavin Floyd, Phil Humber, John Danks). They also have some of the most electric arms to close out games (Chris Sale, Sergio Santos, Matt Thornton).

    Detroit brought in David Pauley and Doug Fister to try to give Justin Verlander some help and Cleveland acquired Ubaldo Jimenez to give them a front-end guy. But neither team still has the front to back depth the White Sox possess.

    That's Gonna Leave a Mark

    As good as the White Sox pitchers have been, they still have cause for concern. Phil Humber has come back to Earth after his unexpectedly good start. Jake Peavy has been erratic, fatigued and has won just once in the last two months. Gavin Floyd is starting to regress to the pitcher the Phillies gave up on at the tender age of 23.

    Then there are legitimate questions in the bullpen. First-year closer Sergio Santos has been outstanding so far, but this is only his second season pitching in his professional baseball career and you can’t help but wonder if the pressure of a pennant race will take its toll on him. If it does, Matt Thornton proved in the beginning of the season that he is not a closer and there is no one else with real ninth inning experience on the roster.

    The ultimate irony for the White Sox this season is the one facet of their team that has kept them afloat could be what sinks their playoff chances.

1. Schedule

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    Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!

    The easiest way to win your division to is beat the teams in your division. Looking forward, the White Sox will play 32 of their last 47 games against the AL Central. Sixteen of those games are against the two teams they are chasing (10 against the Indians and six against the Tigers). Add to that a combined record of 279-292 for the teams outside of the Central on their schedule and the Sox are in the perfect position to make up the five games they need to take over first place.

    If that's too many numbers for you to take in, then just know this: the only three games in the month of September they play outside their division are the last three of the season against the Toronto Blue Jays.

    That's Gonna Leave a Mark

    The easiest way to win your division is to beat the teams in your division. Unfortunately for the White Sox, that isn't something they've been able to do this year. They are currently under .500 against their Central foes and their three-game sweep of the Twins over the weekend was the only time they've done that inside their division all season.

    The White Sox also have the distinction of being the only team in baseball with a winning road record and a losing home record. More than half of their remaining games will be played inside US Cellular Field.

    Unless the Sox can do what they haven't been able to do all season, win at home and within their division, then the team that went "All In" this season will be all out once the playoffs begin.