Posted 07/03/2009 at 03:53 AM
Prior to the start of the 2009 baseball season, I was of the opinion that the Chicago White Sox were going to have a rough time of it, and that they’d be lucky to win 75 games. Considering that I made a pick on every one of the 30 Major League teams, I was obviously going to get several of them wrong. I think it’s pretty safe to say the White Sox are well on their way to a prominent spot on the list of teams I missed on, and it’s looking as though it’s going to be by a wide margin.
Mark Buehrle’s impressive win over the Royals on Thursday night made it six straight wins for the Chisox. They’re now within 2.5 games of the division leading Tigers, and as the campaign hits the midway point, the White Sox are starting to look like the team to beat in the AL Central.
It’s not that this team is without flaws. The offense is only fair, and I’m fairly certain GM Kenny Williams will be on the lookout for another bat as the trade deadline nears. But even if Williams strikes out on that count, I like the chances of this team making a strong run for the division crown and a place in the playoffs.
The key is clearly the outstanding starting pitching the White Sox are getting. Buehrle is doing his usual. He’s seldom spectacular but nearly always reliable, and at 8-2 with an ERA just over 3.00, Buehrle has likely earned a spot on the AL All-Star team. But Buehrle is far from the only tough hurler in this rotation, as the White Sox are currently fielding a top four rotation that’s about as solid as it gets.
Gavin Floyd broke from the gate slowly, but has come on like gangbusters. Over his last eight starts covering 58.1 innings, Floyd has allowed just nine earned runs, and well under one baserunner per inning. He’s given up just 38 hits in that span, with 15 walks, and he’s whiffed 46 hitters.
Jose Contreras was so bad early in the season that it really looked like he might be all done. But Contreras has relocated his stuff and has been amazing over his last five starts since rejoining the big club. In 37.1 IP, Contreras has surrendered only 24 hits and 5 BB, which is kind of ridiculous. His K rate is back up to where it was a couple years ago, which is shocking, and he’s given up only nine earned runs in those last five appearances.
John Danks has gotten his act together after a very disappointing first two months. Over his last four outings, Danks has worked 28.1 innings. He’s allowed only 17 hits and six ER, with a stellar 8/26 BB/K ratio. Danks is now back to where he was for most of the 2008 season, and that’s bad news for opposing hitters.
It’s not a foregone conclusion that the staff can maintain what they’re doing right now. But it’s not impossible, either. Danks is legit, Contreras is still nasty as long as he’s healthy, and Floyd is simply turning out to be a better pitcher than I thought he’d be. And while the offense is not by any means awesome, it’s also not terrible. Jim Thome and Paul Konerko can still rake pretty well, Jermaine Dye is just plain underrated and emerging superstar Alexei Ramirez has really found his stroke after scuffling through April and May. Rookie Gordon Beckham has gotten red hot, and old pro Scott Podsednik has been wreaking havoc in the leadoff spot since making his way back to the White Sox.
Finally, there’s Ozzie Guillen. He may be gruff, foul-mouthed, prone to belittling his players on occasion, and most certainly not being everyone’s cup of tea. But his players perform for him, and Guillen has a knack for pressing the right buttons. He’ll never be invited to join the Diplomatic Corps, but Ozzie can flat out manage a baseball team. And the more I see of the White Sox, the more I’m starting to think Ozzie Guillen and his gang might still be playing baseball come October.
Homer Bailey walked the proverbial tightrope in his first start back in the bigs. In fairness, he was a little hamstrung by Tim McClelland’s ultra-tight strike zone. But Bailey is going to have to show that he can control his pitch count and throw strikes if he’s going to win at this level. Joel Pineiro usually keeps his team in the game, and I’m going to have to look the Cardinals way to get the best of the Reds tonight.