Monday, July 02, 2012

The White Sox will (should?) win the AL Central

Yes, that heading hedges the bet a little. But the White Sox are the best team in the American League Central Division. The team's current lead in the division shrunk to one and a half games after a Sunday loss to the New York Yankees. And the Tigers, last year's division winner are only three back despite a poor start to the season. The Indians are the second place team. But the real reason for the optimism for the White Sox is the run differential. The White Sox are the only team in that division with a run differential in the positive.

Last season, the team with the highest run differential won all six divisions. This season, the only exceptions to the rule are the Reds in the NL Central and the Giants in the NL West. While the differentials are so close in the NL West that anything can happen, the Cardinals are still favored to win the NL Central because their differential is so much better than the Reds. It makes that much of a difference.

And that is logical. The team that scores the most and prevents the most runs should win the most games. The White Sox fit that mold perfectly. Could the Tigers make a run? Certainly. The Tigers' run differential is just below even at -7. And while that is a 56 run differential difference than the White Sox, the Tigers could get hot and catch up in that category. If they cannot, they will not win the division.

The White Sox are in the driver's seat because they can score runs and they can prevent them. The Indians will not be able to keep up. Their run differential is so much under zero (-37), that they will eventually sink from contention. They cannot score like the White Sox and they have allowed far more runs.

The White Sox have the double whammy over the division because they have scored the most runs of any team there and have prevented the fewest. And looking at the team, there is no reason to believe that they cannot keep doing so. Let's take a quick look.

The offense:

The White Sox offense is solid. A.J. Pierzynski's success and career year would be more of a concern if say his BABIP was unreasonable. But his BABIP is a very low .277. So the success does not seem like a fluke. Alejandro De Aza is terrific and has become the perfect table setter for the team. His season does not appear to be a fluke at this point. Alex Rios seems to be on the every other year plan. Two years ago, he was very good. Last year, he was awful. This year, he is very good again. It just seems to be part of his package.

Kevin Youkilis is off to a slow start with his new team. But even at his worst, he should be a huge upgrade from Brent Morel or Orlando Hudson. Paul Konerko, of course, is one of the best hitters in baseball. Adam Dunn is better than last year, but you have to take a lot of bad to go with some of the good. Dayan Viciendo is young and has a lack of patience. But he has pop and can be a game changer at times.

The biggest weakness for the White Sox is up the middle in the infield. Both Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez are having terrible seasons. But there seems to be few upgrades available out there.

Are their holes in this lineup? Certainly. Will there be games where they have trouble scoring? Oh yes. But they have enough offense to keep them where they are. The offense is at least on par with the Tigers and way better than the Indians.

The pitching:

The starting rotation gives the team a fighting chance to win four out of the five rotation rungs. Jake Peavy and Chris Sale have been fantastic. The only worries for both will be as the innings pile up. Sale is in uncharted waters every start now. And Peavy's shoulder falling apart is a major concern. But if they hold up, they are as good as it gets. Jose Quintana is settling is as a really good third starter. He limits walks and other than his start against the Yankees, he has been terrific. Gavin Floyd is basically a fifth starter but he is a solid rotation guy. He will have his bad starts and his good starts in equal measure. And that is all you can ask of a fifth starter.

The problem, of course, is that Floyd is the fourth starter. Phil Humber had the perfect game and then nothing. And now he is on the disabled list. John Danks pitched poorly and is also on the disabled list. The White Sox could make a bold move to obtain a starter, but are somewhat limited from a sparse talent pool in the minors. Ken Williams loves to deal, so something will happen.

The White Sox' bullpen has some big arms. They are prone to walks, but all except Will Ohman have big strikeout rates. Leyson Septimo has been a real shot in the arm since coming up from the minors. He looks terrific too. Addison Reed has settled into the closer role with some success. The White Sox' bullpen is not that big of a concern.

The only concern to have with the White Sox is depth. If Konerko, Pierzynski, Sale or Peavy were to go down, the team would be in deep trouble. But if they all stay healthy and continue to dominate the league in the run differential department, this is the White Sox' division to lose.

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