Last night’s MLB All Star game ended like many White Sox games have in the first half of the season, with closer Liam Hendriks getting the final three outs of the American League’s 5-2 victory over the National League to earn the save.
And with that, the first half ended. But before we look ahead to the second half, we’ll look back at a very successful first half for the South Siders.
There’s been a lot of good things to talk about, especially for a team in first place by 7.5 games in the division. It’s been fueled by excellent starting pitching, led by All Stars Lance Lynn and Carlos Rodon. They are tops in the AL in starters ERA at the break with Lynn leading the team with an excellent 1.99 ERA. Rodon isn’t far behind with a 2.02 ERA, and his 130 strikeouts are tops among Sox pitchers. The bullpen has been okay, inconsistent at times, but Liam Hendriks has been as advertised, converting 23 of 27 save opportunities, earning him another All Star nod.
Of the five starters, only Dylan Cease has fewer than seven quality starts in the first half, which is a testament to the group’s consistency in taking the game into the sixth or later. The highlight of the first half for the starting staff was Rodon’s no-hitter back in April against Cleveland, and he nearly had a second no-no at Detroit in June.
The offense, which was supposed to be mashing the ball and hitting tons of homers, hasn’t materialized in the way many expected when Spring Training opened, but the Sox fill-ins have performed admirably amidst a barrage of serious injuries to key hitters, as the Sox still rank 3rd in the AL in runs scored at the break. They’ve gotten unexpected production from Leury Garcia, Brian Goodwin and Billy Hamilton, the latter two of which were brought in to fill in the holes in the outfield brought on due to the long-term injuries to Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez. They’ve found other ways to get runs across, which will be useful in the post season, as home runs will be harder to come by.
Adam Eaton was supposed to be the answer to the Sox nagging questions in right field, but injuries and ineffectiveness led to him being designated for assignment before the All Star break, prematurely ending his reunion tour on the South Side. He owned up to it, realizing that it was all because he didn’t play well enough. He was granted his outright release, and is currently a free agent.
The Sox have built their lead in the central by playing very well at home (31-14 at home at the break), and beating up on teams below .500. Away from home, and against good teams, they have been rather ordinary. On the road, the Sox are a very pedestrian 23-21, and against teams with winning records, they’re 16-24 so far. In their two biggest road tests of the first half, they got swept at Yankee Stadium, and swept out of Houston in a four game set.
If they’re gonna go far in the playoffs, they will have to win against good teams, and they’ll likely have to beat them away from 35th and Shields. August will provide a stern test, with road series against AL East leading Tampa Bay and a contending Toronto team that may by then be back home in Canada. They also have tough home series against the Yankees, A’s, as well as two emotionally-charged series against the Cubs at the start and end of the month of August that will serve to either help maintain the lead, or shrink it heading into September.
Injuries have absolutely ravaged the starting lineup, starting with Eloy Jimenez’s pectoral tear in Spring Training. Then, Luis Robert went down with a torn hip flexor, and finally, Nick Madrigal tore his hamstring and had surgery to repair it, costing him the rest of the season. Other players have missed time with injuries, but those three were the most serious. Eaton, Tim Anderson, Adam Engel, Michael Kopech and Aaron Bummer all spending time on the injured list with various ailments. Starting catcher Yasmani Grandal also tore a tendon in his knee right before the All Star break, right as he was rounding into form at the plate.
The good news here is Jimenez will be back soon, as he got moved up to AAA in his rehab assignment relatively quickly. Luis Robert isn’t too far behind in his recovery, so the Sox will be getting two big bats back in the middle of their order in time for the pennant chase, and they should both be fresher than the rest of the team when October rolls around.
Overall, despite injuries and distractions, the team has made it to the break in very good shape to win a division title. They’ve got the pitching to go far, but they could use a little help in the bullpen, particularly a right handed reliever. They also might look to shore up second base, with Madrigal out for the season.
But they are a serious contender to win it all in 2021. It’s all there in front of them, they just have to go out and take it.