With their playoff chances looking ever brighter and a roster full of young, inexperienced players, the White Sox are up for the challenge.
Now, Francisco Liriano must turn their challenge into his opportunity.
When the White Sox traded for Liriano on Saturday, they knew they weren't getting a polished starter guaranteed to win them a chunk of games down the stretch. They were there, after all, for his most recent outing, a 2.2 inning, seven-run affair. But they dealt for him in spite of that. They dealt for him because of the little things, because of his age and his past and the tweaks they think they'll be able to make.
"He has thrown some games against us that have just been lights-out outstanding," White Sox general manager Kenny Williams said on a conference call. "The last time out for him it wasn't so great, and we saw some things and see some things that can immediately lead to better results."
And though that might sound like a thinly veiled insult, winning teams aren't in the business of acquiring players and then belittling them. No one forced the White Sox to make this trade, and Williams' belief that pitching coach Don Cooper might be able to tweak Liriano's problems must be founded.
It's crucial that Liriano realize that he is indeed a project without focusing on the negatives of such a designation. He's a work in progress, yes, for the White Sox, but that's not why they targeted him. The team saw his flashes of brilliance. It saw his age and experience, his two postseason berths, and it hoped all that could help its staff of young, hardworking pitchers.
"I think everyone that has watched us knows that our guys have just been going at it full tilt since the beginning of the season," Williams said, implying that the burden might be a large one on his young staff.
Williams lumped Liriano with reliever Brett Myers, whom the White Sox acquired from Houston on July 21. Liriano is 28, Myers 31, and the two have a combined 18 years of major league experience. That's what the White Sox needed, and in terms of acquiring pitching, they're likely finished, Williams said. They've found their fits, they believe, and now it's time to eye the division title.
Liriano, too, will need to shift his sights once he debuts with Chicago. A day after being traded, he's still assigning the blame for his early-season struggles. He faltered because he was walking too many players. He was thinking too much about his impending free agency. He was thinking too much, period. That's all so easy to see now, but it won't automatically change in Chicago. That change is up to Liriano, and it's still to come. But instead of dwelling on everything he and the Twins didn't do, it's now time to focus on the next two (perhaps three) months.
In one night, Liriano was catapulted from the AL Central cellar to its best team, and that has to feel good. The White Sox record alone has to be a confidence boost, and now it's time for him to rise to the level of his new team.
"I was surprised even though I knew something like that was going to happen, but not to the White Sox," Liriano said. "It is what it is, and it's a good team too. They're in first place, and they believe in me."
With the White Sox, Liriano has a clean slate -- sort of. Because they're a division rival of the Twins', the White Sox have faced Liriano 15 times. He has the best possible situation in Chicago: no history to overcome and a coaching staff that knows his game and has been scouting him for years.
Familiarity will be the theme of this trade in the coming days. Although Williams wouldn't confirm Liriano's precise role -- he said that was up to manager Robin Ventura -- there's a good chance that he starts Monday night against the Twins. Liriano expressed his desire to move on and pitch consistently after the trade, and there's no better way to put the past behind him than to pitch his first game in a White Sox uniform against the Twins.
Of course Liriano was emotional about leaving the only major league team he's known, but by Sunday, he seemed more comfortable with the move and the fact that he's at the whim of the business of baseball.
"It's kind of sad, being here my whole career," Liriano said. "It's kind of sad. It's not my call. There's nothing I can do about it ... That's part of baseball."
Deferring to one's own powerlessness is one way to deal with the aftermath of a trade, but it's a dangerous line. "There's nothing I can do about it" applied yesterday, when the move was made by the powers above, but that's no longer the case.
With a new team, a new record, a new lease on both a playoff berth and a redeemed season, there's a lot that Francisco Liriano can do about it.
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