The Chicago White Sox made some serious personnel changes in the last two seasons. Before the 2011 season, Adam Dunn was added to the team, bringing an everyday Designated Hitter who could clobber A.L. opponents. But he didn’t exactly live up to expectations. Before the 2012 season started, free agent pitcher (and staff ace) Mark Buehrle was signed by the Miami Marlins, while Kenny Williams fired longtime manager Ozzie Guillen. Ozzie was also picked up by the Marlins. Everyone (but me) thought that the White Sox were going to be in a rebuilding phase this season. But the resurgence of Adam Dunn and Alex Rios has proven otherwise. Add the electrifying Cy Young candidate Chris Sale, and you have a team that has held the lead in the A.L. Central for most of the season, and current sits there in a tie with the Detroit Tigers. So how does the team break that tie, reclaim their spot on top, and move towards the postseason?
The White Sox’s rotation has been a mess this season. Chris Sale anchors things as the staff ace (hard to believe he was going to be put back in the bullpen earlier this season), at 15-6 with a 2.94 ERA. He’s definitely put himself in the Cy Young conversation. Jake Peavy has had a bit of a revitalization, as well, keeping a respectable 3.28 ERA. Of course, we can’t forget Phil Humber’s perfect game from earlier this year.
But the mess comes from the loss of two huge pieces. Both John Danks and Gavin Floyd are on the disabled list, leaving Chicago without two key components that would do nothing but help in a postseason run. With those two out, the rest of the rotation spots have gone between six different pitchers, including Francisco Liriano, who was acquired at the trade deadline from the Minnesota Twins (and is still terrible). The good news is that, in the postseason, a four-man rotation with Sale, Peay, and Humber as the first three out could certainly come away in both a five- and seven-game set.
There cannot be enough said about how important it was to see a return to form from both Adam Dunn and Alex Rios. Dunn may strike out a lot and hit for very low average, but he’s already crushed 38 home runs this season, and as soon as his oblique clears up, he’ll look to hit 40 before September is out. Alex Rios is back to hitting the way he did in Toronto, as well, putting up 20 home runs with a .297 average. When those two guys are added to what Paul Konerko does on a yearly basis (already 21 home runs with a .309 average this season), and you have a 3-4-5 combination that is as lethal as any in baseball (perhaps only to be outdone by the 3-4-5 combination the Tigers will sport next season with Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Victor Martinez).
It’s also a boon to the offense that other players are having career years, as well. A.J. Pierzynski has a career high in home runs with 24, Dayan Viciedo has 19 long balls, and Alejandro De Aza and Dewayne Wise are hitting .280 or better. That’s a huge offense that really no one (except me) saw coming this year. It’s a big part of the reason why they have held tightly to the top of the division most of the season.
The White Sox have one of the youngest (if not the youngest) bullpens in baseball. Outside Brett Myers (who was acquired from the Houston Astros before the trade deadline), none of these pitchers have had more than a couple years of pro baseball experience. Given that knowledge, it’s no surprise that most who have stuck with the team have ERAs well above 3.00, and many 4.00 and above. The best bullpen piece right now would have to Nate Jones, who, in his first season in the majors, has a 2.95 ERA in 52 games out of the bullpen. Which is certainly not bad, by any means.
One of the problems, though, is with their closer, Addison Reed. Reed is in his second full season in the majors, is 24/28 in save opportunities, and has a 4.10 ERA. Clearly he has the stuff to be an above average closer. But the ERA has to come down if he’s going to be an elite reliever that commands the game in the ninth inning. Perhaps experience will bring it to him, or perhaps he will be appearing in as few non-save situations as humanly possible. Whatever the case, he’s been pretty good so far.
Keys to Success
The rotation is damaged and the bullpen lacks the experience you’d like to see on the big stage in October. But I’ll be damned if this White Sox team has exceeded all expectations and put on one hell of a performance this season. Sure, they just got swept in Detroit, putting them into a tie for first place with the Tigers, but things can change in the course of an afternoon. The real key to continued success, though, is going to be that offense. By this point in the season, you know what you’re going to get out of your pitchers. The season is fading away, everyone is getting tired, and pitchers aren’t making the kind of quality appearances you’d like. So when there’s an offense backing them up that includes five guys hitting more than 19 home runs each (and more than 20 each by season’s end, I’m sure), all the pressure is shifted. For the stretch run it is up to the offense to continue hammering the ball, continuing to keep the Sox in games long after most teams would give up, and make the final push toward October.