For a team that got little respect within TBLA back on Feb 17th the White Sox are doing a pretty good imitation of a successful team. Strangely the pieces that were expected to be solid have not been. Alexei Ramirez, John Danks, and Gavin Floyd have all played well below expectations, yet the team is in first place. Many still think it is just a matter of time before the Tigers take what was expected to be an easy AL Central title but I'm not so sure the White Sox aren't simply the better team.
The White Sox have quite a few compelling stories and taken together they help explain why they sit in first place with a 34 - 29 record.
NOTE - All numbers do not include the game played on June 14th
I have no idea which is the greater story:
Thirty-seven year old Paul Konerko is having a career year in a career that already some high highs. What got into this guy? From age 23 - 33 Paul Konerko was a solid more times than not above average but not great offensive 1st baseman with an OPS+ ranging from 103 - 136 with one awful year thrown in (83). Since turning 34 he's become an absolute beast at an age that has not been kind to sluggers lately. His OPS+ the last three years 160, 141, 180. His 366 batting average tops his nearest competitor by 30 points. If he keep it up this year he has a good chance to have the greatest 36 year old AL First Baseman season in history. He's currently at 180 OPS+, so he has a good cushion to work with.
Rk Player OPS+ PA Year Age Lg HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS Pos 1 Norm Cash 149 523 1971 36 AL 32 91 59 .283 .372 .531 .903 *3 2 Mickey Mantle 143 547 1968 36 AL 18 54 106 .237 .385 .398 .782 *3 3 Rafael Palmeiro 141 714 2001 36 AL 47 123 101 .273 .381 .563 .944 *3D 4 Harmon Killebrew 138 532 1972 36 AL 26 74 94 .231 .367 .450 .817 *3 5 Mickey Vernon 137 674 1954 36 AL 20 97 61 .290 .357 .492 .850 *3 6 Joe Judge 130 516 1930 36 AL 10 80 60 .326 .410 .509 .919 *3 7 George Brett 123 528 1989 36 AL 12 80 59 .282 .362 .431 .793 *3D/7 8 Rod Carew 121 612 1982 36 AL 3 44 67 .319 .396 .403 .799 *3 9 Carl Yastrzemski 120 636 1976 36 AL 21 102 80 .267 .357 .432 .790 *37D 10 Tino Martinez 117 538 2004 36 AL 23 76 66 .262 .362 .461 .823 *3D
Adam Dunn was as Dunn as you can get. Everyone knows how bad he was last year, yet the dismal year came out of the blue. Since Adam Dunn arrived in 2001 he had been one of the most consistent hitters in baseball. Low average, high walk rates, gazillion home runs, but in 2011 it was low low low batting average, no power, no nothing. Much talk centered this winter on how much of a bounce back Adam Dunn would have in 2012. No one seemed to think he would bounce all the way back and reclaim his one time prodigious power. On April 17th, 2012 it looked like 2011 all over again. His triple stat line was .179 / .256 / .333. Whatever happened on April 18th needs to happen to Richie Weeks. From April 18th on, Adam Dunn has hit 20 home runs in 178 at bats, posting a sweet .999 OPS. Dunn is back, every swing goes for broke. Who has hit the most home runs in the 21st century? The White Sox have two of the top six.
Rk Player HR From To Age PA BA OBP SLG OPS Pos 1 Alex Rodriguez 491 2000 2012 24-36 8056 .299 .394 .568 .962 *56/D 2 Albert Pujols 454 2001 2012 21-32 7709 .326 .417 .610 1.027 *375/9D64 3 Jim Thome 410 2000 2012 29-41 6392 .271 .397 .561 .959 D3/5 4 Adam Dunn 386 2001 2012 21-32 6829 .243 .374 .505 .878 *73D9 5 David Ortiz 383 2000 2012 24-36 7129 .285 .380 .553 .933 *D3 6 Paul Konerko 377 2000 2012 24-36 7586 .286 .364 .508 .872 *3D/5
Jake Peavy was one of the best pitchers in baseball from 2004 - 2008, winning one Cy Young, leading the NL in strikeouts twice, leading the league in ERA twice, leading the league in wins once, winnings 68 games while losing only 44 games. But that was in 2008, it has been three years since Jake Peavy was considered an elite pitcher, but in 2012 he is back on his game. Peavy is going to be coming into LA with the best WHIP of his career 0.97(3rd best), a 2.91 ERA (6th Best), with excellent peripherals to back it all up. Yet he's not even the best pitcher on his team. That honor belongs to .......
Chris Sale who is making a good case for the AL Cy Young award. Going into 2012 Sale was just another one of those guys being converted from a relief role into the rotation. Feliz, Bard, and Sale. How many were betting the tall lanky left hander would not only be the only one still in a rotation but making a mockery out of AL hitters? The White Sox didn't even know what they had, and for a brief moment put him back in the bullpen for one game. Luckily cooler heads prevailed and he was quickly reinserted back into the rotation, and has reeled off five straight fabulous starts. Over that five game period, five wins, 36 IP, 19 hits, 4 earned runs, 43 K's, only 7 walks, an ERA of 0.98, an OPS against of .413.
Rounding out the rest of the story:
DH - Adam Dunn - See Above
1st Base - Paul Konerko - See Above
2nd Base - Gordon Beckham - The former number one pick has struggled since he exploded on the scene in 2009, and 2012 appeared to be no different. At the end of April one had to feel his leash was about to get cut. He had hit zero home runs, and had a OPS of .434. He must have thought he was facing Chris Sale every game. Yet, we sit here on June 15th, and Beckham has had a bit of an upswing with eight home runs now on his belt. His Slug% since May 1st is .445. So, some signs of life. Overall the numbers are uninspiring but they are no longer insipid.
SS - Alexei Ramirez coming into the year was considered one of the White Sox brighter spots as he had been about a league average shortstop for the previous two years. On June 15th, Alexi is easily the worst hitter on the White Sox. He might be have having the worst season in the AL for a full time player. Lets check it out:
Rk Player OPS+ PA Lg BA OBP SLG OPS Pos 1 Alexei Ramirez 38 251 AL .218 .238 .272 .510 *6 2 Kurt Suzuki 50 200 AL .219 .260 .278 .538 *2 3 Cliff Pennington 56 235 AL .209 .260 .302 .562 *6 4 Erick Aybar 57 233 AL .222 .255 .303 .559 *6
Yup, not even close at this point.
3rd - Motor mouth Orlando Hudson was somehow picked to play 3rd base when regular 3rd baseman Brent Morel went down a few weeks ago. Hudson got old quick. At least it looks that way right now but given his age he might simply be hitting his stride in Chicago.
C - AJ Pierzynski probably should have made the great comeback story group. He is after all 35 and he is having a career year. Except he didn't really have anything to come back to. As I said this is a career year At this point he's the second best offensive catcher in baseball, he's hit eleven home runs, tying him with Mike Napoli and Jarrod Salmonella for the league lead for catchers. HIs career high is 18 and that was seven years ago. AJ has been a remarkably consistent hitter, posting an OPS+ between 86 - 04 over the last eight years. HIs OPS+ right now is 127. What is in the water in Chicago?
RF - Alex Rios is as inconsistent a hitter as you can find. Last year he tried to out duel Dunn for worst season but lost. In 2012 Rios is doing what he did in 2010 so he's okay, nothing great, nothing to be ashamed about.
CF - Speedy Alejandro De Aza mans centerfield and is doing an excellent job. He got a tryout in 2011 and did well enough for the White Sox to hand him the job this spring and he's done nothing to indicate they made a bad decision. The one time Dodger farm hand gets on base, has a surprising bit of power, and plays defense. What more can you ask from a minimum salary player?
LF - Adam Dunn should play this against us this weekend. Normally Dayan Viciedo is the guy. He's the second Cuban to start for the White Sox and for a while it was a race about who was the worst player on the team. Dayan, unlike Alexi started figuring things out and has been on fire for over a month. His OPS on May 13th was .530. Since that time he has put up an OPS of .956, with nine home runs in 100 abats. Maybe he should play right and Rios should sit but that would be one awful corner outfield defense.
The Dodgers get a break with no DH. First off either Dayan or Rios has to sit for Dunn which takes a legitimate bat out of the lineup, and secondary, Dunn is playing LF which is always fun. Since Dunn has a tender ankle it might even be more fun than usual.
Game One Matchup - Dream Matchup of the hottest AL pitcher Chris Sales going against our Kershaw.
Game Two Matchup - No Hit Philip Humber going against our Pitcher of the Week. Can Chad give us three good games in a row? He probably will not need too. Humber is not very good.
Game Three Matchup - Jose Quintana against Chris Capuano. Jose joined the rotation on May 25th and has made four starts with varying success. He has an ERA of 1.98, it will be over two by Sunday Night.
While Robin Ventura goofed around with Hector Santiago as his closer, heir to the throne Addison Reed bided his time, and when Santiago finally showed his stripes, Reed was ready to pick up the pieces. Setting up Reed will be one time super stud lefty Matt Thornton and solid right handed setup man Jesse Crain. Just two years ago Thornton was coming off three straight years of double digit K/9 rates but that has now fallen to 7.2. Crain came back from injury a few weeks ago and has solidified the back end of the bullpen. This link will take you to the rest of the group.
The White Sox might be lucky to still be in first place by the time they leave the ravine, Dodger pitching is not like AL Central pitching, those gaudy offensive numbers could use some shine taken off of them.