June 8, 2014; Anaheim, CA, USA; Detail of the nameplate and helmet number of Chicago White Sox designated hitter Jose Abreu (79) at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Monday began a critical two-week stretch for the Detroit Tigers, who spend that time playing their AL Central Division rivals. Whereas three weeks ago, it looked as though the Tigers might not merely run away and hide from the rest of the division but actually secede from it, they have stumbled, and the standings have tightened considerably.
What has changed? Well, three big things, according to Paul Swydan: (1) Torii Hunter’s defense is not what it used to be; (2) Justin Verlander’s pitching has been a lot like Hunter’s outfield play; (3) the bullpen’s performance again resembles a “dumpster fire” its woes continuing.
What does this have to do with the Chicago White Sox? A lot, actually, as the White Sox and the Tigers still have three games left in their early-week series, and the Sox only trail the Tigers by 3.5 games heading into Tuesday night’s action.
Before Monday’s game it was observed that while White Sox slugger Jose Abreu may be in the lineup, that he has not been well at the plate since his return from the DL. There were other calls for him to do something as well.
Monday night Abreu did more:
"Jose Abreu went 2-for-4 with a two-run homer and Gordon Beckham went 3-for-5 with a run scored and one RBI. Throw in Gillaspie and lead-off hitter Adam Eaton (2-for-5 with a run scored and one RBI) and the top four hitters had a combined nine hits.No hit was louder than Abreu’s two-run shot, which snapped a 1-for-17 stretch. The Cuban rookie has 18 homers and 49 RBIs, despite missing two weeks on the disabled list. He’s has bad stretches before, but finds a way to not let them fester.“It’s been impressive,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “But again, I don’t look at him as a normal rookie. He’s played enough and he’s old enough and he’s talented enough. You don’t treat him like a normal rookie because he’s a player, a good hitter.“He’s just getting his swing back. … When he hits it on the barrel, it goes a long way.”"
Along with Abreu, Adam Eaton has faced some criticism for his inconsistent performance at the plate:
"Eaton’s on-base percentage has dropped from .363 to .310 following the DL stint, as some of that has to do with a lack of base hits, but part of it has to do with a lack of drawing walks as well."
Eaton, though, has been riding a bit of a streak and may be returning to form, as Doug Padilla wrote for ESPN Chicago:
"The left-handed hitter is batting .333 (7-for-21) during a five-game hitting streak. Prior to the hitting streak, Eaton was in a 3-for-35 funk over his previous nine games."
Padilla also cites improvements in the White Sox bullpen, which I am not yet convinced is something that can be counted on to continue. They have a BB% that is still worst in MLB and a strikeout-to-walk ratio that is also an-MLB worst–and worst by a lot. Giving them the benefit of an arbitrary end point–such as the past two weeks–improves how things look, as they are 27th in BB% over that time, and while their K/BB ratio is still the worst in baseball, it is so by not nearly as large a margin, and, hey, look at that, the Braves’ bullpen is missing the strike zone a lot of late.
Whatever the specific reasons, the White Sox continue to gain ground in the division.