Will The White Sox Defend Their Crown?
by Trevor Whenham - 07/20/2006
Remember the playoffs last year? The White Sox played small ball like few teams in recent memory have, and the payoff was huge. Instead of resting on those laurels, however, GM Kenny Williams really turned the team on its head. Almost before the ticker tape had been cleaned up the team had brought in Jim Thome, jazzed up the rotation with Javier Vazquez and really changed the entire offensive mentality of the team. It's worked reasonably well, too. They aren't in first in their division, only because of the shocking Detroit Tigers, but they are in the race and leading the wild card.
That isn't to say that the team hasn't been frustrating, though. Take the last week, for example. They came back from the all-star break with a key series against the Yankees and proceeded to get swept in three games, including a 14-3 massacre in the middle game. Next up is a huge series against the Tigers. They come out strong in the first game and win, 7-1, but they follow that up with a flat performance in a 5-2 loss. They can't seem to string together strong games as regularly as they need to.
We're at the time in the season now when we need to start making a decision about how we feel about the White Sox. Either we decide they are for real and we get ready to back them, or we decide they are vulnerable and we try to capitalize on the value we can get from betting against them. But which one is it? Here are the arguments for and against believing in the Sox:
Good - pitching depth: Few teams in the majors can say that they have four consistent starters with winning records. Their five starters have started all but two games this year, all five have won at least nine games and none have lost more than seven games. For insurance, they have Brandon McCarthy in the bullpen. He's only 23, but he's ready to be a starter after showing good and improving stuff in relief.
Bad - pitchers giving up runs: Last year the team had an ERA of 3.61, second best in the league. This year their 4.44 mark is only third best in the division. Only Jose Contreras, at 3.48, has an ERA below 4.00. That makes the over attractive, but it doesn't bode well for a deep run, especially since the Tigers are so strong.
Good - Bobby Jenks: Their closer is a beast. He has 26 saves in 27 tries, which is the best percentage in the league. The team has absolute confidence when he takes the ball.
Bad - getting the ball to Jenks: Cliff Politte was amazing last year, but he is so bad this year (8.70 ERA) that he has been designated for assignment. Dustin Hermanson hasn't pitched yet after struggling with an injury. McCarthy has been good, but he isn't a long term answer. They desperately need help if they want to go deep.
Good - big bats: Jim Thome has been absolutely incredible. Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye have been almost as good. They don't have to play small ball anymore, because they are too busy crushing the ball. We have to wait to see if this style is as effective as the old style was, but it sure is more fun to watch.
Bad - centerfield: The position is a disaster. The plan was for Brian Anderson to play the position, but that hasn't worked. He has a perfect fielding percentage, but he bats like your grandmother. He's been sharing time with Rob Mackowiak, who can hit for average if not for power, but is a liability in the field.
Bad - the schedule: In September, they have to play Boston, Anaheim, Oakland, Detroit and Minnesota. They have to play Detroit 10 more times and the Twins 12 more times. That means they will hit Santana and Liriano at least twice each. The also have to go to Toronto and host the Yankees, who they have struggled with. That's a lot of potential pitfalls.
Good - the schedule: They have ten games left against Kansas City, a series with the Devil Rays, seven games with Cleveland and four with the Mariners. That's a lot of bottom feeders to get fat on. It also should be a joy for betting, provided they get their act together.