It all started with a comeback win over the Indians. Heading into that Sunday matinee the White Sox, after dropping the first two games of the series, were 23-32, 9.5 games behind the Twins and only 1.5 games ahead of the last-place Indians. They drew Jake Westbrook and managed to score six runs before the end of the fifth. Unfortunately for them, the Indians had managed six in three innings off of Mark Buehrle. That tie continued until the bottom of the seventh, when two Indians relievers managed to load the bases and a third allowed two of them to score. Matt Thornton and Bobby Jenks held the lead, and the White Sox avoided going 10 games under .500.
Since then the White Sox are 14-2, having outscored their opponents 84-46. The streak has improved their season record to 37-34. With Minnesota’s loss to the Brewers today the White Sox find themselves just 2.5 games out of first. They were 9.5 games back as recently as June 9. That makes the AL Central look like a three-team race — the Tigers are 38-32, though they have a nearly even run differential. Could this present an opportunity for the White Sox to change the landscape of the division?
In the aggregate the White Sox are still pretty terrible. While the Tigers have a +1 run differential, Chicago’s still sits at -9. Before today’s 2-0 win over the Braves the Sox had scored just 4.39 runs per game, which will obviously go down, which ranks 10th in the American League. They’re not doing a great job of preventing runs either, allowing 4.54 runs per game, 9th in the AL. Only two of their hitters sport a wOBA over .350, and only one of their starters has an xFIP below 4.00. That doesn’t sound like a team rallying towards first place.
Of course, much of that has changed during the streak. They’ve had a number of players fall short of expectations during the season’s first two months, and those players have stepped up in the past two-plus weeks. It’s doubtful that they keep up their current pace, but if they revert to expectations, rather than the poor performances they realized earlier in the season, perhaps the White Sox can finish the season with a respectable record.
All stats prior to today.
And then there’s Paul Konerko, who is hitting .415/.484/.528 during the streak. Alex Rios has actually underperformed his season numbers during the streak, as has Juan Pierre (yet he continues to hit leadoff). Gordon Beckham and Andruw Jones have continued to hit poorly despite their teammates’ excellence.
Pitching, of course, plays a big role in the streak as well. Jake Peavy has allowed just four runs, one home run, in his last 23 IP, striking out 15 to four walks. John Danks, the Sox best starter this year, has allowed just five runs in 22 IP in his last three starts. Buehrle, a huge disappointment early in the season, has allowed just four runs and has struck out 17 to just two walks in his last 20 IP. Gavin Floyd might be the best of them all right now. He has allowed just three runs in his last 29 IP, striking out 31 to seven walks. That includes his seven-inning start today, in which he allowed no runs while striking out nine. Even Freddy Garcia is in on the action, eating 19.2 innings in three starts during the streak, allowing 10 runs along the way.
Some of these guys are going to come down to earth. Floyd and Pierzynski seem the most obvious culprits. Neither is exactly bad, but nor are they as good as they have been in the past 18 days. If Vizquel finishes with his current season numbers the Sox should be happy. Ditto Ramirez. Quentin is a tough case. He’s certainly better than his season numbers, but I wonder how close to his streak numbers he can remain.
There is no doubt that the White Sox have talent. For the most part that talent underperformed expectations in the first two months, but in the past 18 days they’ve surged. It probably won’t lead them on a miraculous run to the playoffs — the Twins are just too good, and the Wild Card is certainly coming from the AL East. But, as the Sox have shown, they’re not as bad as they were early in the season. They’re just a little too good for that.