Chronic injuries, slumps explain Sox fall in standings

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CHICAGO – Mark Buehrle provided the two most memorable moments for the Chicago White Sox in a profoundly disappointing first half that saw them lose 22 of 27 games, a slide that just about ended their playoff chances before July 1.

Buehrle pitched a no-hitter on April 18. And then on the final day before the All-Star break, he decided to stick around with the only team he’s ever known by agreeing to a four-year contract.

But bringing Buehrle back with a $56 million deal instead of trading him away won’t be a cure-all for the team that won the World Series just two years ago.

There are problems everywhere.

A surprisingly lackluster offense batted just .241 and featured a lineup where half of the batters were in a slump at the same time, including Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko. An unreliable bullpen posted a 7.48 ERA, 3-12 record and blew eight saves in its last 54 games.

Injuries keep piling up with Jim Thome, Scott Podsednik, Darin Erstad and Joe Crede all on the DL at some point. Crede, the team’s slick fielding third baseman who hit 30 homers a year ago, needed back surgery and is probably finished for the season.

His team’s performance left manager Ozzie Guillen embarrassed often and sometimes almost speechless. And that’s saying something.

What do the White Sox need?

“Better, better, better everything. Better coaching, better baserunning, better fielding, better offense. We were really, really bad in the first half,” Guillen said.

“We had issues everywhere. I don’t think we’re going to get worse. Believe me, we’re not going to get worse.”

The White Sox won 10 of their final 15 games before the break just to get to 39-47. They’re 13 games behind first-place Detroit in the AL Central but they have to jump over three teams ahead of them – the Tigers, Indians and Twins – in the best division in the AL, if not the majors.

Instead of losing Buehrle to a trade or free agency after the season, the White Sox finally worked out a deal to keep him around. But Dye, who’s batted only .214, and Tadahito Iguchi, hitting .253, are also potential free agents after the season.

General manager Ken Williams vowed to keep doing what he thought was needed to turn it around.

“I know that things have not materialized up to this point of the season, but I don’t expect them to give up and I don’t expect them to think that I’ve given up,” he said.

“We’re going to keep pushing it, we’re going to still go out there and acquire some players that I think will help us make a run. That is in the short term and long term.”

Javier Vazquez pitched two straight complete games to end the first half and Buehrle has been solid. Both have six wins. But veteran Jose Contreras has already lost 10 times and Jon Garland, an 18-game winner the last two seasons, is 6-6 and was troubled in his last start by a tight shoulder when he gave up 11 earned runs.

Bobby Jenks was the team’s lone All-Star – the White Sox had seven players picked last year – and saved 23 games in 26 chances.

And Konerko found his stroke in the final month and heads into the break hitting .262 with 18 homers.

But it may be way too late.