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Rating the Sox market: Four reasons for hope, four for concern

Paul Konerko tosses bafter stroking 2-run double sixth inning as Chicago White Sox take 3-1 lead Baltimore Orioles Monday April

Paul Konerko tosses the bat after stroking a 2-run double in the sixth inning as the Chicago White Sox take a 3-1 lead on the Baltimore Orioles Monday April 16, 2012 at US Cellular Field. | TOM CRUZE~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 13, 2012 6:21AM

The White Sox are in first place in the American League Central and are having their best start since 2008, when they reached the playoffs.

Many things are going right for the Sox, but there are also reasons for concern.

Positives for the Sox

1. Chris Sale

The first-year starter is proving to be more than just the left-hander replacing Mark Buehrle in the rotation. Sale, 23, leads the AL with a 2.05 ERA, ranks among the league leaders with an 8-2 record and 76 strikeouts in 74 innings (with only 18 walks). Sale can be the stopper for a losing streak, a must for a contending team.

The Sox need to be careful with him though, as he only pitched 71 innings out of the bullpen last season. There was a mini-panic in early May when elbow soreness had the Sox saying he would be moved to the closer role. Sale talked his way back into the rotation.

2. The bullpen

General manager Ken Williams said he wouldn’t have traded away Sergio Santos had he not had confidence in the young arms of Add-
ison Reed, Hector Santiago, Nate Jones and Zach Stewart. Moving Sale from the bullpen to the rotation was another gamble.

But it has proved to be a positive. While Santos developed shoulder problems with the Toronto Blue Jays and hasn’t pitched since April, the Sox’ bullpen (3.75 ERA) has been able to shoulder the burden. Reed (seven saves) has assumed the closer role from Santiago (four saves) and has done well

3. Robin Ventura and the coaching staff

The team has made a smooth transition to new leadership after eight seasons under Ozzie Guillen. Ventura credits his staff of Mark Parent, Jeff Manto and Joe
McEwing and holdovers Don Cooper and
Harold Baines. But Ventura’s patient, low-key nature has proved to be an asset
despite his inexperience.

4. The veterans’ resurgence

The Sox are getting the kind of seasons they expected from designated hitter Adam Dunn (20 home runs, 46 RBI), center fielder Alex Rios (.299 average, six home runs, 32 RBI) and starter Jake Peavy (6-1, 3.05 ERA). Perhaps more surprising is the MVP-caliber start of captain Paul Konerko, who leads the AL in hitting (.365).

Concerns for the Sox

1. Gavin Floyd and Philip Humber

Problems could mushroom quickly if these two starters don’t get back on track. ‘‘Obviously they have had some rough stretches,’’ Cooper said. ‘‘But a pitching slump is not like a hitting slump. When a guy is going good, he’s throwing enough quality pitches. When you’re not, that’s [what] is happening. We have two guys who we are trying to break out of their inconsistency. We’ve seen them good before, and we know what it looks like.’’

2. A lot of road work

The Sox will play only 35 home games in the second half. Since they have been a better road team (17-9) than home team (16-18), that may not be as great a concern. But it is worth noting that the Sox’ recent resurgence — going 18-10 since May 11 after starting 15-17 — came while the team has been in Chicago for 25 of the last 31 days (including a three-game series at Wrigley Field).

3. The Cleveland Indians

While the Detroit Tigers were predicted to dominate the division, it is the Indians who have been as much of a surprise as the Sox. They trail the Sox by a half-game. The Sox have won eight of their 12 meetings, but they will not meet again until September, with the last three games of the season in Cleveland.

4. The bullpen

As much as a positive as the young arms have been, they could be a concern if their performance takes a downturn over the long season. Another danger: if the rotation sputters and more innings are demanded in relief.

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