COMMENTARY | While the Chicago White Sox are quickly sinking into Chicago Cubs-like obscurity, the Chicago Blackhawks are on top of the world. While the Blackhawks look for their second Stanley Cup in four years, the White Sox's 2005 World Series title feels like it is in the distant past. What can the White Sox learn from the President's Trophy winning Blackhawks?
It takes more than good pitching to win championships
The Blackhawks series against the Los Angeles Kings was characterized as the Blackhawks against star goalie Jonathon Quick. Likewise, the series against the Red Wings turned into a series focused on then-hot goalie, Jimmy Howard. Hockey goalies and baseball pitchers have a great deal in common; they can almost single-handedly win a game for their team, but their efforts are rendered futile if they are not supported by their offense and defense.
Unrecognized by many hockey fans, Corey Crawford has been quite the goaltender for the Blackhawks. Nonetheless, superb goaltending did nothing to help the Blackhawks as their skaters failed to defend and score early in their series. Later in that series and once again in the Los Angeles series, the star power of the Blackhawks on offense and defense made a supposedly hot goalie in Jimmy Howard look mortal while the efforts of their own Crawford were far more appreciated.
The White Sox have found themselves in a position like the Los Angeles Kings against the Blackhawks, with unquestionably good pitching that frequently goes to waste. Starting pitchers for the White Sox rank fourth in the American League in ERA at 3.72, just recently fading from first place during their losing streak. To understand the team's last place standing, look no further than the supporting cast: the offense ranks last in batting average, on base percentage, slugging, and runs. To add insult to injury, the defense has committed the third most errors in the American League.
As the Blackhawks almost learned the hard way against the Red Wings, the White Sox will not go far if pitching is their only asset.
The stars must shine
While roleplayers can make huge contributions to turn around a season or playoff series, both the White Sox and Blackhawks can only go as far as their star players will take them. During their 12-5 playoff run so far, the points leaders for the Blackhawks are as follows: Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, Bryan Bickell, Duncan Keith. The only glaring absence is Jonathon Toews, who is not far behind with 9 points and whose production has been compensated for by Bryan Bickell. Nonetheless, when Toews' struggles were at their highest, the Red Wings had the Blackhawks on the ropes.
The stars on the White Sox have had generally inverse results and the White Sox's record has likewise been bad. While Alex Rios is putting together another good season, the White Sox's big boppers generally rank at the bottom of the squad offensively in nearly every category. According to FanGraphs, Jeff Keppinger, Paul Konerko, and Adam Dunn have been holistically among the worst overall players in baseball this season by wins above replacement. Despite a strong return from the disabled list, Dayan Viciedo's offensive value now ranks in the doldrums along with the aforementioned trio. The team was not designed to rely on the production of Gordon Beckham, Alexei Ramirez, and Conor Gillaspie as primary contributors.
While a good team should be able to sustain a single star that struggles like Bryan Bickell picking up Jonathon Toews' slack, there is not enough luck to go around when your most talented, highest salaried players are the team's worst offensive players. If the White Sox are to turn around their season, you can place your bets that it will be on the backs of Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko, and Dayan Viciedo.
When things don't work, shake up the lineup
While fans can be frustrated with a frequently changing lineup, nothing is more frustrating than seeing the same lineup make the same mistakes. One of Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville's trademarks is his willingness to tinker with his lines and pairings when things are not working as well as he'd like. Though it is true that there are differences in lineup-making in hockey and baseball, there is still a lesson to be learned.
With Patrick Kane goalless throughout the playoffs and the Blackhawks trailing in the second period of Game 4 against the Los Angeles Kings, Joel Quenneville made a change. He put Patrick Kane, who had been on the second line, with fellow star and former top draft pick Jonathon Toews to try to energize the pair. It was not long before Kane tapped in his first goal of the playoffs, which happened to tie the game. Hossa, who was bumped to a new line, scored the game-winner in the third. Quenneville kept those new lines together for Game 5 and reaped the benefits as Patrick Kane tallied a hat trick on their way to a series-clinching victory.
Robin Ventura and the White Sox have had quite a different story. The most significant change from the opening day lineup for the White Sox is the demotion of new acquisition Jeff Keppinger from the 2 spot in the lineup, which is now occupied by Alexei Ramirez. Meanwhile, the team's next worst two hitters still occupy the 4-5 spots in the lineup on a regular basis. While the bottom of the lineup and bench are not necessarily crowded with hot bats, the current lineup has not done much to make a case for staying the same.
The sad truth is that the White Sox are not the Blackhawks
There is little doubt that the White Sox are underachieving; they have two players with 400 career home runs in their lineup that are providing next to no value and their team that led the league in defense a year ago is now nearly last. The White Sox can, in fact, learn valuable lessons from the Blackhawks.
What does not change, though, is that the White Sox are not loaded with talent and enthusiasm like the President's Cup winners across town. Being anything but one of the best teams in hockey would have been a letdown for such an experienced and talented team. The White Sox could fathomably have a winner, but there has been justifiably far more doubt.
Unfortunately, the White Sox are a far cry from being the sort of franchise that the Blackhawks are, even if they do take these important lessons to heart.
Jacob Long, a native to the Chicago area, is a writer for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. He has experience covering sports and news for WMC-TV in Memphis, TN and has contributed to sports blogs such as The Flapship . Follow him on Twitter @jlongrc .
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