First Pitch: A major roadblock for White Sox

By Brett Ballantini, CSNChicago.com

OAKLAND As the ink dries on the freshly-signed death certificate for the 2010 Chicago White Sox, the season has degenerated into a muted, defeated and borderline delusional affair.

And culpability for the rapid careen from contender to pretender can be spread throughout the clubhouse.

Starting at the top, GM Ken Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen must decide on what sort of team they want to field in 2011, because the philosophical conflict between the two contributed to off-field tensions and on-field inconsistency.

The two may decide to part ways, with either Williams shifting to an upper management job similar to the move John Paxson made with the Chicago Bulls or Guillen resigning as manager.

But the rumblings and rumors of irreparable discord between the two is overblown; Guillen is so committed to Chicago that hes put his Miami home up for sale and is closing on acoughNorth Side home this summer, while Williams has the pride and drive to want to make one more drive to the World Series before heading off into the sunset of Football Sundays.

Williams made the mistake of going against his gut and signing off on a decision to keep journeyman reliever Randy Williams, who languished in Charlotte for much of the season, over Jim Thome, who not only has had a strong season but did so for the division rival Minnesota Twins.

Then, in a desperate attempt to Thome-ize the Chisox, Williams gambled big to bring Manny Ramirez to town, unaware or unwilling to acknowledge that Ramirez had been reduced to a mere singles hitter while remaining a potentially divisive clubhouse force of Albert Bell-ian proportions.

Guillens judgment on Thome notwithstanding, late in the season there seems a glaring inconsistency from the manager, who insists his ballclub hasnt quit, continuing to issue the requisite threat that hell kick the hineys of anyone who gives up on him.

Yesterday, pregame: Monday night, we were flat. Besides that, weve played hard.

Yesterday, postgame: If they quit, I will kick their ass. If they quit, they wont play for me. I dont think we have any quitters. Were just havent played that well.

Guillens faith in his team is admirable, but such faith could find him falling on the sword for his team. Clearly, something has snapped in the Chisox, who a week ago tried to muster momentum heading into a series of the season with Minnesota and havent won a game since.

Playing a Twins team again determined to tramp the dirt down on the White Sox six feet under, losses could be forgiven. Dropping a subsequent five straight to the Detroit Tigers and Oakland As, teams seemingly with less to play for than Chicago, in inexcusable. It cannot simply be bad breaks and poor execution.

If theres intrigue remaining in the season, its not in what Tyler Flowers or Gregory Infante can bring to the final 10 days. Its how hard Guillen will study his team to determine what went wrong in this season-high, eight-game losing streak.

An entirely separate issue from reestablishing the identity of the White Sox is what to do about those pesky Twins. Minnesota is set up for years of domination and benefits from their crystal-clear intimidation of Chicago.

The Twins arent going anywhere. They streaked to the top of the major leagues without arguably their two best players in slugger Justin Morneau and closer Joe Nathan. And with all the praise Guillen and the White Sox lavish on Minnesota, youd almost expect the manager to boltif he was ever to leave Chicagoto become Ron Gardenhires bench coach up north.

Guillen was asked last night about Minnesotas 45-19 (now 50-19) run in the second half, and he said soberly, Its a surprise for you guys, not for me. Look at my quotes since spring training, all year long, look at what I say about them the last seven years: Good ballclub. I hope people start believing that. Theyre not the same Minnesota Twins we saw 10 years ago. This is a good ballclub that spent a lot of money, they have good ballplayers, they deserve to be there. They can kick everybodys ass, and thats the reason they clinched before anyone else.

They earned it. They deserve to be there. They played very, very hard. Even when your enemy kicks your butt, you have to tip your cap to those guys Ron Gardenhire should be proud of his ballclub.

As angry as last nights starter, Mark Buehrle, was at losing the game that ultimately clinched the AL Central for Minnesota, he still had lavish praise for the Twins.

Its hard to look back over all those years. They have a good team every year, the lefty said, when asked whether the 2010 Twins were the best yet. Theyre talking about sitting their guys the next couple of days and its like theyre so good they could sit all nine starters and put another nine guys in there and still win. It seems like every time a guy goes down with injury or rests, somebody steps right in and does a good job for them.

The Chicago clubhouse has been rocking it mausoleum style since the sweep by the Twins, and to a certain degree thats expected. And though hes an expert at leaving those losses behind him (perhaps in contrast to Williams), no one is taking them harder than Guillen.

You look back and you work all spring training, through the summer, and you dont get what you want to get, its another losing year, no matter what, Guillen admitted. I dont get paid to have a good season. I get paid to win, and we didnt do it this year.

Thats why we play this game, to get in the playoffs, Buehrle said. We put ourselves in a deep hole at the very beginning then went on a good run for a little bit, but everybody knew it wasnt going to continue that way all season long, Buehrle said. We brought ourselves back into contention and gave ourselves a chance, but these past couple of weeks we havent played well enough to deserve to be in there.

Guillen, a man driven all his life by the joy that baseball brings, is feeling battered and bruised these days: I dont care if you have 10 games left or 20 games left, losing is not fun. To me its not fun its no fun coming here when youre losing every night. No fun for anyone.

Some of the culprits who stole the fun from Guillens season may reside in his own clubhouse. For his sake and for that of devoted White Sox fans, lets hope he isnt so downtrodden by this September Swoon he fails to find out those Chisox who might not be fit to go to war with him in 2011.

CSNChicago.coms White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik
on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox information.

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