The White Sox and the Race for the AL Central
Jun 14, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
After their weekend debacle, the White Sox have a Monday off-day to contemplate their future before hosting the San Francisco Giants for two games and then traveling to Minneapolis to play a Thursday-to-Sunday-four-game series against the Minnesota Twins.
The third Monday in June seemed like a good time to think about the state of the AL Central race. I did some reading to figure things out. I realized something important. A race for the division crown itself appears to be forming instead of one team running away with the division crown while the others fight among themselves for scraps, which in this case would be the second wild card spot.
With the AL Central standings looking as they do, with the Sox occupying fifth place a half game behind the Twins and five-and-a-half games behind the Detroit Tigers, this next week’s six games provide a critical stretch for their playoff hopes.
The last two weeks have been a roller-coaster ridefor the White Sox, who won a series with the Dodgers then being swept by the Angels, won another series against the division-leading Tigers then being swept by the Royals. It is as if the .500 mark functions as a ceiling for the White Sox, one they just can’t break through for significant length of time.
Right at this moment, it looks as though the Royals and Indians may be ready to provide the Tigers strong competition. The Twins and White Sox appear set to battle over which team will dwell in the cellar.
For the Sox, the sweep at the hands of the Royalsdeflated whatever momentum they had built up winning two of three from the Tigers earlier in the week.
With the AL Central race as tight as it is, the White Sox must address their issues as Tony Ginnett pointed out in Sunday’s Sun-Times:
"Hitting likely won’t decide the division champ because all AL teams are designed to hit sooner or later.That leaves pitching and defense.And that spells trouble for the White Sox."
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As my colleague Josh McKenzie pointed out, the Sox struggled with both these areas over the weekend against the Royals, with errors and defensive miscommunication costing them dearly.
Ginetti uses unearned runs allowed as a means to measure the cost that poor defense imposes on the Sox. He notes that the Cleveland Indians–whose defense has been terrible in 2014 whether you look at an advanced stat like Defensive Runs Saved or something archaic such as Fielding Percentage–are the only AL Central team that has allowed more unearned runs than the Sox, who have allowed 33 compare to the 22 the Tigers have given up, the 20 allowed by the Royals, and the 17 surrendered by the Twins. This makes a difference, Ginetti writes.
"The Twins are last in the league in pitching, but they’re fifth in defense, which could be why they remain competitive in the Central."
While second and third base along with the corner outfield spots provide substandard defense for the White Sox, at least Gordon Beckham at second and Conor Gillaspie at third have provided value at the plate, though Beckham has had arough stretch of late. The same cannot be said for the corner outfielders, as Nicholas Schaefer of the Catbird Seat writes in a piece claiming the Sox are “ one week closer to selling.” His summary provides little comfort for fans on the South side:
"There are serious flaws with this team. The bench is still weak and inflexible, the outfield is getting replacement level production from two of three spots, the fourth starter has been better than we could have hoped but is still extremely volatile (Noesi) and there really is no one to be the fifth starter at the moment."
Schaefer expresses great concern for the state of the corner outfield spots, claiming that both defense and offense seem nonexistent in left and right fields. He also explained that there is little help available at Triple-A, which may be why Marcus Semien is learning to play the outfield. Robin Ventura emphasized that the Sox are not seeking help from outside the organization, which makes Shaefer’s headline seem that much closer to being the case.
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