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updated: 6/10/2014 12:44 PM

White Sox still seeking their identity

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  • The White Sox celebrate after defeating the Detroit Tigers 6-5 on Monday night.

      The White Sox celebrate after defeating the Detroit Tigers 6-5 on Monday night.
    Associated Press

 
 

The question kept being asked Monday night whether this week's White Sox-Tigers series is huge or merely large.

The answer according to Adam Dunn was, "People are trying to make this something it's not."

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The Sox designated hitter meant that the four games aren't must-win. Not in June. Not with nearly 100 games left on the schedule.

Sox manager Robin Ventura agreed that the series "isn't make or break."

What is it, then? Aren't the Tigers in first place? Aren't the Sox trying to catch them? Are they a threat to Detroit or not?

Good questions considering the Sox' pitching and defense are suspect and their offense is sporadic.

Those elements were good enough for a 6-5 victory in the series opener, which boosted the Sox to within 3½ games of the Tigers.

Anyway, OK, maybe this series still isn't big, but it has to be something bigger than little.

With the expanded postseason format, playoff berths are emerging from parking lots, concession stands and imaginations at ballparks all over America.

All it takes for a 99-loss team, which the Sox were last season, is a little serendipity, a lot of magic dust and everyone else in the league taking early retirement.

"We're still not at the point," Sox general manager Rick Hahn said, "where we can make any declarations publicly about whether we're a contender or not."

Sox fans aren't exactly convinced, either, are they?

More than 100,000 showed up at Belmont Park to see whether California Chrome was a real Triple Crown contender, but fewer than 20,000 showed up to Comiskey Park to see whether the Sox are real American League Central contenders.

So let's call this series the race to October for the Tigers, the division's defending champion, and the race to July for the Sox, who have no idea what they are.

The Tigers are trying to make the playoffs again, win the AL pennant and finally win the World Series.

The Sox simply are trying to define themselves before the July 31 trading deadline -- or preferably earlier -- as buyers or sellers and contenders or not.

Nobody associated with the Sox will put it that way. At the same time they have no answer to the question of what's up or down with them this season.

Hahn said, "I don't think we're to the point of trying to convince ourselves of anything."

Ventura added, "We're just trying to win Monday's game."

Here's the truth: The White Sox are one of about a godzillion teams hovering around .500 with about a month to figure out whether they can even pretend to be in the playoff conversation.

If Hahn determines the Sox aren't, he likely will attempt to trade Dunn, Alexei Ramirez and other veterans in late July.

If Hahn determines the Sox have a legitimate shot, he likely will pursue reinforcements for the stretch run.

"Chances to win are sacred," said Hahn, who added that there will be money available to add on in July if it makes sense. "We're not going to forsake a real chance to win."

So, what's a real chance to win? Meanwhile, a real chance to win what? A division? A postseason berth? A pennant? A World Series?

Or only the privilege of losing in the first round of the playoffs?

Whatever the answers are, the Sox will be cautious. Whatever happens during the next few months they still will be in the process of rebuilding toward the next few years.

"Anything we do," Hahn said, "is going to be geared to put us in position to contend on an annual basis and win multiple championships."

In other words, the Sox aren't going to trade promising prospects for a fading veteran just to boast that they qualified for the postseason.

That's the only certainty for the White Sox, regardless of what size box this series is packaged in.

mimrem@dailyherald.com

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