The Chicago White Sox may have seen their six-game winning streak come to an end last night in Baltimore, but the White Sox are still rolling around at 71-56, and keeping their two-game cushion on Detroit in the race for the AL Central title. Chicago is also only 2.5 games back of New York for the two-seed in the American League playoffs, meaning homefield advantage in the Division Series. Given the tightness of the division race and the current landscape which has only one team making it to the postseason from the AL Central, we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. But for a team the Las Vegas numbers had projected as a 74-88 team back in March, Robin Ventura’s White Sox have had quite a run. The biggest reason is there offense.
Chicago is fourth in the American League in runs scored, making up for a pitching staff that John Danks first disappoint, then be lost for the year to a shoulder injury. The rotation has seen Gavin Floyd struggle with the same mix of injuries and incompetence. They’ve survived thanks to a good year from Jake Peavy and a great year from 15-game winner Chris Sale, who gets the ball tonight in Camden Yards, but the staff is subordinate to the job the offense is doing.
Paul Konerko has always been the reliable cog in the White Sox machine and this year is no different. The first baseman has churned out a .390./514 year for on-base percentage and slugging percentage and that’s par for the course for one of the game’s underrated players. Virtually everywhere else though, has popped up pleasant surprises and best-case scenarios come true.
Alex Rios has finally found the form he seemed to have permanently left in Toronto back in 2006. Six years ago Rios was emerging as one of the game’s top all-around offensive players. He regressed, was traded to the South Side three years later and while he showed flashes, he never put it all together. This season he’s batting .303 and has popped 20 home runs. Rios still needs more plate discipline to up the on-base percentage, but he’s back as a threat to hit for contact and power.
Adam Dunn showed that last year was just a sad aberration and he’s on course again as a walk-drawer and home-run hitter, with a .338 on-base percentage and 38 home runs. Alejandro de Aza has posted a nice .346 on-base percentage and been a table-setter. He’s currently on the disabled list, but will be back in September and in the meantime DeWayne Wise has stepped in with a .328/.491 line since he was cut loose from the Yankees after they acquired Ichiro Suzuki. Wise won’t have to lose playing time when de Aza comes back. The one thing that hasn’t gone well for the White Sox offense this year is the development of Dayan Viciedo in left, and the kid can go to the bench to make room for Wise.
But the big addition to the offense is the unlikely acquiring of Kevin Youkilis from Boston. Who could have guessed that Youkilis would be the first victim of the Bobby Valentine era in Fenway, struggle early and play his way out of town. Those who believed a change of scenery was the ticket were right. Youkilis has had 184 at-bats with Chicago and submitted .381/.495 stat line, including 12 home runs.
When you add it all up, that’s a pretty deep lineup and it makes the prospect of facing the combination of this offense and Sale on the mound twice in a postseason series, a nerve-wracking thought for New York or Texas. In the meantime, this offense is the biggest reason the White Sox have so drastically exceeded expectations and continue to lead a division everyone handed to Detroit in March.