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updated: 7/12/2012 8:38 PM

Simple second-half plan for White Sox

But can they carry it out to make playoffs?

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  • White Sox starter John Danks has been out since May 20 with a shoulder injury, and a September return looks like the best-case scenario.

      White Sox starter John Danks has been out since May 20 with a shoulder injury, and a September return looks like the best-case scenario.
    Associated Press

 
 

Stay healthy, and stay focused.

It sounds like a simple enough plan, and now we can sit back and see if the White Sox can execute the blueprint in the second half of the season.

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The Sox come out of the all-star break Friday night with a three-game series against the Royals in Kansas City.

The White Sox were the American League's biggest surprise in the first half, and they've been on top of the Central division since June 24.

That's all well and good, captain Paul Konerko said, but it means very little with 77 games left in the regular season.

"We have a long way to go," Konerko said. "It will get tougher as we go. If we stay where we are at, there will be more questions and more things to distract us from doing what we did. That will be the test, and we'll see if we are up for it."

As we mentioned at the top, there are two obvious keys to getting the Sox into the playoffs for the first time since 2008. There are other factors, too:

Health:

The White Sox have five players on the disabled list, and four are pitchers.

Three of them -- starters John Danks and Philip Humber and reliever Jesse Crain -- could make the difference between winning the division, capturing one of the two wild-card spots or missing the postseason all together.

Let's start with Danks, who was supposed to be the Sox' ace this season after agreeing to a five-year, $65-million contract extension in December.

The left-hander pitched like anything but a No. 1 while going 3-4 with a 5.70 ERA in 9 starts this season before landing on the DL with a strained shoulder.

Out since May 20, Danks said he feels fine except for when he tries throwing.

Ouch.

Maybe he will feel better coming out of the all-star break, but Danks hasn't pitched for nearly two months and it's now looking like a September return is the best-case scenario.

"He is not even on my radar," pitching coach Don Cooper said of Danks on the Score on Thursday morning.

There is better news on the Humber front.

Out since June 16 with a right elbow flexor strain, the right-hander made his third and final rehab start Thursday, allowing 2 hits in 6 innings.

If all goes well, Humber will rejoin the White Sox' rotation and pitch against the Red Sox in Boston on Tuesday night.

As for Crain, he had a strained right oblique in spring training, a strained left oblique in April, and now he's dealing with a strained shoulder.

If Crain doesn't make a quick recovery, Sox general manager Kenny Williams is undoubtedly going to try adding a veteran reliever before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline.

Focus:

It all starts with manager Robin Ventura and his staff, so look for the White Sox to continue taking it game by game without looking at the big picture.

"They get to enjoy it," Ventura said of the all-star break. "But when they come back, be ready to go the same way.

"It's going to be the same when they get back, as far as the expectations and the focus is back on playing games."

Schedule:

To open the second half, the White Sox play 16 of 19 games on the road.

Considering they have a 23-16 record away from U.S. Cellular Field, the news could be worse.

"Long road trips are not fun and a lot of road games aren't fun at any time during the season," Konerko said. "But we've played pretty well on the road this year. We'll just take it as it comes.

"I know it's one game at a time, that's a cliché, but that's what we will do.

"We'll try to have a good road trip and that's it. Just keep trucking along."

On track:

At the Cell on Sunday, Ventura said key performers such as Chris Sale, Alex Rios, Alejandro De Aza and Jake Peavy did not "overachieve" in the first half.

You can say Sale and Peavy stayed healthy, and Rios, De Aza, Adam Dunn, A.J. Pierzynski, Konerko played like they're supposed to.

Whatever the case, if the core players maintain their pace in the second half, the White Sox should be in good shape.

Youk:

Don't expect newcomer Kevin Youkilis to continue playing like he did over the final seven games of the first half, when he batted .444 with 2 home runs and 11 RBI while making several standout defensive plays.

Do expect the rejuvenated Youkilis to bring fire and a dangerous bat to the ballpark every day.

"He brings a lot of stuff, not just being a good player but with his approach and the way he plays," Ventura said of Youkilis, who came over from Boston in a June 24 trade.

"It's contagious. It's great for our team to have him in here. He's a pro, and that's one of the things trading for a guy like him, you get more than good numbers.

"You get a good player people feed off of, and he makes your team better in a lot of ways."

sgregor@dailyherald.com

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