With the regular season over, many teams are facing an offseason filled with golf rounds and hot-stove strategy.
But we're not going to let them get off that easy. No sir. No way. In an attempt to bring some closure between franchise and follower, we're giving a blogger from each team the opportunity to give a concession speech for this year's squad. Up next is our friend Ricky O'Donnell from SB Nation Chicago.
Dear South Siders,
It is with no great pride we gather here to concede the season and to lay the campaign hopes of the 2012 Chicago White Sox to rest while congratulating the Detroit Tigers for winning this marathon race to claim the AL Central. Few thought we'd last as long as we did pitted against the these Tigers, a team powered by top-heavy talent worthy of all the adulation the sport can offer. The Tigers are the squad with name-in-lights headliners capable of accomplishing some amazing things: a Triple Crown, an MVP, a Cy Young.
The White Sox? They'd never claim to boast such transcendent talent. This team was as transparent as it gets, with strengths and flaws plainly laid out for the world to see. This was, essentially, the 16-inch softball team you'd see in Evergreen Park:vThe Sox were (mostly) old and (mostly) slow, and they would regularly tear the cover off the ball. To think: The Sox actually hit 48 more homers than the Tigers is completely bewildering, at least when you consider the two monsters permanently attached to the middle of Detroit's order. This season was a lot of fun for a long time. Then it all came crashing down. In the end, the South Siders were bested by a superior team.The White Sox finished with a record of 6-12 against the Tigers, but they can take solace in getting the last laugh in a head-to-head meeting. On September 17, the Sox defeated Detroit 5-4 in a make-up game at U.S. Cellular Field. With the win, they led the Tigers by three games in the division with 16 left to play. And after defeating the Royals the next night, the Sox had won five in a row. If the Sox could just hold steady the rest of the way, a division championship seemed likely. And once they got to the playoffs? Chris Sale and Jake Peavy would make for a formidable one-two punch in a short series, the offense had enough power to strike fear into any opponent and their track record against many of the American League's elite teams was encouraging. If they only could have held on.
Baseball's 162-game schedule can feel excessive, maybe even overwhelming, but there's value in every series. The Sox learned this lesson the hard way by undoing five months of quality work over a nine-game stretch. After a season filled with doing the little things right -- catching the ball, running the bases with intelligence, finding a way to get a timely hit -- the script was flipped. The faces and the names remained the same, but something felt different the last three weeks of this season.
The Sox were spent, drained physically and emotionally, resigned to playing a lifeless brand of baseball. As they started their fatal September swoon, hardly anyone noticed: autumn signals Bears season in Chicago and this city was too drunk off football to realize the Sox were face-planting in grand fashion. With the Sox fighting for their playoff lives, U.S. Cellular Field struggled to reach 50 percent capacity. The atmosphere was every bit as dead as the team, and Sox and their fans would pay for it.
From September 18-27, the Sox hit just .123 with runners in scoring position. There's no way to predict the timely hit in baseball, though it endures as an undeniable staple of success. When the Sox forgot how to do it, they stood no chance. A September 27 game against the Rays might have summarized Chicago's September struggles the best. The Sox loaded the bases twice that day and scored a total of two runs — one when Dayan Viciedo was hit by a pitch, the other when Paul Konerko grounded into a double-play. Even their success was a mitigated failure. Rays 3, White Sox 2, is how it would end. For the most critical stretch of the season, this was a franchise devoid of hope.
And this is the intrinsic cruelness of the game. Because, for the vast majority of the season, these White Sox were damn likable. From May 29 to September 25, the White Sox occupied first place in the AL Central for all but seven days. This wasn't supposed to happen. Last year was the self-branded "All-In" campaign, the season they sought to make a last stand with a group of grizzled veterans sporting fat contracts. And then Adam Dunn endured the worst season a hitter has ever had in the modern era. Jake Peavy battled injuries. Alex Rios was pathetic. The team won 78 games and was never truly in contention. It was a nightmare season in every way, and there was no reason to think the suffering would stop in 2012, especially after the Tigers signed Prince Fielder.
When they started playing, it turned out the White Sox were pretty good. Adam Dunn turned it around in dramatic fashion, finishing fourth in the American League in homers and raising his OPS .232 points. Peavy finally had the season Kenny Williams envisioned when he brought him to the South Side in 2009, shrugging off feeble run support on a nightly basis to finish with 219 innings under his belt. Rios' turnaround was just as astonishing: he raised his OPS .237 points and his production never dipped, not even in September.
There's nothing quite like a pleasant surprise and the White Sox were exactly that. A midseason trade would (seemingly) push them over the top: the Red Sox exchanged Kevin Youkilis for spare parts, the ideal candidate to fill a massive void at third base. Youkilis was good for the Sox, posting a .771 OPS in 80 games and playing sound defense.
So much to like, ruined in such a short period.
So, the question becomes: was the season a success? Considering it may warp your mind. The Sox overachieved, kept our interest all season long and gave their (tiny) fanbase a few moments to cherish. There was that sweep over the Yankees, the crazy comeback victory against the Mariners and, oh yeah, Philip Humber's perfect game. It's just difficult to call something a success when it ends so tragically, with the South Side's heart ripped out, shredded, left bleeding on the floor. This White Sox's choke job wasn't quite on the level of what the Braves and Red Sox did to their fans last season, but that's hardly a fact to take comfort in: the end of this season was impossible to stomach, let alone think about.
Mudslinging time: This feels strange to say, but: I'm not sure if the White Sox had a common enemy, either internally or externally. There was no Nick Swisher-level d-baggery on the club in 2012, unless you want to count Orlando Hudson and Energizer-powered motor mouth. And yes, blowing it to the Tigers was immensely disheartening, but they were a fairly likable bunch. I would rather have my Sox get beat by superstars like Cabrera, Fielder and Verlander than the gritty grinders who populated the Twins teams that regularly kicked Chicago's teeth in not so long ago. There's honor in being defeated by the best players in the game; there's nothing but shame that comes from giving up back-breaking infield singles to Nick Punto and the like.
Which is to say: No hate, Detroit. You dudes beat the White Sox straight up. The Tigers are a worthy division champion.
A change is going to come: Though it would inevitably produce terrible results and turn into a "Year One"-level punchline for North Siders to hold onto, the Sox's 2011 slogan, "All-In," probably would have been more fitting this year. The Sox hold a $22 million option on Jake Peavy (with a $4 million buyout), a $13 million option on Youkilis ($1 million for the buyout), a $9.5 million option on starter Gavin Floyd and they'll have to decide if they'll pay free agent A.J. Pierzynski.
Peavy will likely be brought back after the buyout, and it wouldn't surprise me to see Youkilis return, too. The decision on Pierzynski is the most problematic. Paul Konerko and Mark Buehrle are the minted South Side icons, but don't sleep on Pierzynski's Sox tenure: he's been very good for a long time, and though he's baseball's "most hated player", he's a key part of Chicago's clubhouse fabric. Problem is that Pierzynski turns 36 in December and is coming off an impossibly well-timed career year. Seriously: Pierzynski hit 10 -- 10! -- more homers in the 2012 than he did in 2010 and 2011 combined.
Rumor has it that Kenny Williams is being promoted in the front office and his long-tenured right-hand man Rick Hahn is taking over GM duties. If true, it's a hell of an initial task for Hahn. Williams has neglected the farm system for years while riding the coat tails of veterans who won't be around much longer. Williams' blood would curdle at the mere mention of the term "rebuilding," but Hahn likely won't have a choice sometime soon.
This era of White Sox baseball — led by Konerko, Buehrle, Pierzynski, et. al — has been fun and successful, but Father Time remains undefeated. It isn't going to last forever, which might be 2012's harshest blow: If this was the last chance for success for this core, it sure was unpleasant of them to choke away the season in the final few weeks like that.
Previous Concession Speeches: Tampa Bay Rays, Milwaukee Brewers, Philadelphia Phillies, Arizona Diamondbacks, Pittsburgh Pirates,Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins, San Diego Padres, New York Mets, Miami Marlins, Chicago Cubs, Toronto Blue Jays, Colorado Rockies, Kansas City Royals, Houston Astros