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Emma: White Sox Must Soon Determine Their Direction

By Chris Emma--

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Inside the walls of any big league clubhouse, the aftermath of difficult defeat often takes its toll. Baseball brings 162 games, but when the losses are piling up one after the next, you can't help but to hurt.

It's clear that these White Sox are hurting. On Tuesday night, they led 5-2 after two innings against the Nationals and lost 10-5. Of course, they were 23-10 and led the AL Central by six games on May 9, and now they're 29-29 -- losers in 19 of their last 25 games -- and fading fast.

"We're taking our lumps," White Sox right fielder Adam Eaton said. "But hopefully we can learn from it and battle back."

What is this White Sox team, and where does it go from the .500 mark? We should find out soon enough, starting with this homestand against the Nationals, Red Sox and Blue Jays (plus the Twins, too).

Despite their inconsistencies coming in bulk, the White Sox still have two of the top seven pitchers in baseball, Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, based on Fangraphs' pitchers' WAR -- plus they acquired James Shields to be their third starter for a low-risk deal -- and feature a defense that's above replacement level with some bright spots like Eaton.

To borrow a line from Dennis Green, the White Sox who we thought they were. This is a team that's built to compete until the end in this wide-open AL Central.

The White Sox aren't the team that started with the best record in the AL at 23-10, and they certainly aren't the group that's gone 6-19 since. Fangraphs projects the White Sox to finish 81-81. As currently constructed, the .500 line seems fair, with this writer standing by his 83-79 prediction.

Of course, that's before moves are made before the deadline, because, to no surprise, general manager Rick Hahn has stated that his team is going for it in 2016.

Reds outfielder Jay Bruce remains a logical option for the White Sox, according to teammate Bruce Levine. Adding Bruce to the mix would presumably put a left-handed power bat between Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier, plus it would lengthen the lineup by pushing Melky Cabrera to the sixth spot and so on.

Adding Bruce would bring the White Sox a more promising lineup. That's just the beginning of moves that can be made to bolster this roster.

The White Sox need another bullpen arm to strengthen the back end and perhaps a better option for a fifth starter. Mat Latos struggled again on Tuesday.

"Just a horses—t performance, period," said a candid Latos, who's rarely one to hold back.

"I walked, what, three, four, five, six, seven? I walked a s—t ton of people. A piss-poor effort, period, on my behalf."

Latos immediately hit the clubhouse after leaving in the fifth inning and began to watch film of his rough performance. There wasn't much to see except for a lack of command. This could be the last start for Latos with the South Siders. Yet, the White Sox have much larger problems than a struggling fifth starter.

The White Sox need more from their key players. After struggling mightily for weeks, Jose Abreu knocked in two runs and continued his improved plate presence as of late. Abreu entered Tuesday with a 48.4 percent hard contact rate in the last two weeks. That bat is looking a bit more powerful.

The biggest addition of the offseason, Todd Frazier is a career .254 hitter who's batting .219 with a .192 batting average on balls in play. The metrics suggest his average will balance out sooner rather than later. At least that power hasn't slumped one bit this season, as he has 19 home runs through Tuesday. Once the White Sox get Abreu and Frazier clicking -- and they will -- the offense will see a boost in production. That won't be enough.

Collectively, the White Sox boast a .303 wOBA. Go ahead and ask Latos for a way to describe that. They have a team ERA of 3.70 and xFIP of 4.26, and that's for a pitching staff that features Sale and Quintana.

Now come the questions about manager Robin Ventura, who's working on the final year of his contract. Ventura's seat is warming as the season has hit a free fall, and he needs to earn a new contract. While Ventura isn't the one underperforming on the field, he doesn't have a great strength for which the team can rely.

It remains a reality: A major league manager takes heat when his team is losing. The pressure's on for Ventura to get the White Sox winning again.

"We got to rally together," Ventura said, expressing his confidence in the White Sox.

With no hesitation, Hahn declared weeks ago that the White Sox are going for it. They backed that claim even in their skid by getting Shields. The team has money available and some prospects to move in order to buy. Whether that's the best course of action -- say, as opposed to rebuilding -- remains to be seen.

Given their current state of flux, the White Sox will soon find whether their best interest is to double down on 2016 or sell off and rebuild for the future.

The White Sox have stated and restated their organizational philosophy of fighting for the present. There's reason to believe this team can win the AL Central, and it can just as easily finish fourth place ahead of only the lowly Twins.

We're about to find out where the White Sox are going in 2016 -- and perhaps beyond.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago's sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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