After Wednesday’s 10-3 drubbing of the hapless Pirates on the South Side, the White Sox are one game past the halfway point of this 60 game Race to COVID, and they’re in very good shape to not only make the playoffs, but possibly win the AL Central.
With Cleveland’s victory over the Twins later on on Wednesday, the 19-12 White Sox are tied with Cleveland for 2nd in the division, and just a half game back of the Twins, who sit atop the Central with a 20-12 mark. According to ESPN’s playoff percentage, they currently have a 97.6% chance of making the postseason for the first time since 2008.
How did we get here? Well, this young, but very talented club stumbled out of the gate, particularly at home, but they’ve been very good away from home, sporting a 10-4 mark away from 35th and Shield’s. They’re only 9-8 at home, but they’ve won their last six there to finally get themselves above .500 in front of their home (cardboard cutout) fans.
There have been bouts of inconsistency, particularly early on from the starting staff, and a brief lull in offensive productivity, but this young team has begun to find its stride and as of this writing, they’ve won 9 of their last 10 games, and sport the game’s 2nd best run differential at +41.
Sure, a lot of that +41 can be attributed to the power surge the Sox hitters have displayed the last week and a half, but let’s not discount the efforts of the pitching staff, both starting and bullpen. The ‘pen has been consistently good all year, and that’s remained the case even after Aaron Bummer, arguably the team’s best reliever, went down with injury.
The starters have shown strength of late, too, punctuated by Lucas Giolito’s no-hitter on Tuesday against Pittsburgh. It was his second straight outing with 13 strikeouts (tying a career high). Dallas Keuchel has come in and provided a solid outing for the Sox every time he gets the ball, and has only taken two losses. In those two losses, his offense only scored one run in those two games. The other starters have gotten better, most notably Dylan Cease, as we are starting to see the promise he possessed as a high draft pick.
That this team has remained in contention, and continues to gain ground on Minnesota and Cleveland while battling through a plethora of injuries is commendable as well. Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal, Aaron Bummer and Reynaldo Lopez have all missed time this year, and it hasn’t seemed to faze this club.
It’s a testament to the reserves, as well as the veteran leadership of Jose Abreu (more on him in a moment), Keuchel and manager Ricky Renteria to keep this team focused on the next game, next inning, next pitch. That mentality will no-doubt help as the pressure ratchets up as the season quickly winds down to the end.
Back to Abreu. There were those that questioned the wisdom of signing him to the three-year deal that the Sox signed him to this winter, but he’s proving them wrong with one of the best stat lines in the game right now. He’s vaulted himself into the thick of the AL MVP discussion with a barrage of home runs over the last week and a half and looks poised to claim the RBI title for the 2nd year in a row. He’s seen a lot of losing in his big-league career, and now he’s poised to see postseason baseball for the first time, and he’s leading the charge.
Going forward, the Sox remain in one of the softer spots in their schedule, as they’ll face the Royals for 7 of their next 15 games into mid-September. That stretch also sees the Pirates twice more and the Tigers for three. After this next 15 game stretch, the schedule gets tougher coming down the stretch, as the Sox face four teams with playoff aspirations: a huge four game set at home vs. Minnesota, a seven game swing through Ohio (3 at Cincinnati and 4 at Cleveland) before finishing up with a massively intriguing 3 game set at home against the Cubs.
It’s entirely possible that both the AL and NL Central titles will be on the line in that Crosstown Clash to finish the season. Stock up on the popcorn and booze now, you’ll need it that weekend.
As of now, the Sox have only two wins against Cleveland (2-4 in 2020) and one against Minnesota (1-2), and that will have to improve for the Sox to claim the Central crown. They have 7 more games against the Twins left, and 4 at Cleveland, and those 11 games will largely decide the Sox fate in the division race.
The good news though, is they stand a good chance to wind up in one of the top two spots in the division if they do play well against those two top dogs coming down the stretch. And even still, they’re in excellent shape to grab one of the two Wild Card spots.
This final 29 game sprint to the finish should prove to be one helluva fun ride (COVID be damned), and we should see the team play postseason baseball. Let’s enjoy it, no matter how it ends…