The Chicago White Sox are officially contenders for the American Central League title. Through two months of the 2012 season, that is.
Chicago served notice to the visiting Cleveland Indians of the above sentiments, sweeping a weekend set at U.S. Cellular Field to close the gap between the two clubs to a mere half game. The White Sox exploded for 35 runs in the three games on 43 hits as several bats began to come out of hibernation.
Chicago has won their last three series and taken nine of their last 10 games to vault the Tigers for second place in the division standings. At 26-22, the White Sox have a chance to climb to five games over .500 with a win in Tampa Monday afternoon.
That doesn't sound impressive to you? The last time that happened was back in 2010.
The White Sox have put together an impressive stretch, but there are four more months to this season. I've seen enough AL Central races to know that we're far from crowning anybody on Memorial Day. The question on the minds of the fans is simple: Can this team keep it up?
We'll start getting that answer in Florida this week. Here are 6 keys to the White Sox staying in the thick of it as we enter June.
Chicago has not been very good at home this season, but winning five of their last six have the White Sox record at U.S. Cellular Field at a more respectable 12-13. Sunday's win means that they have now outscored their opponents at home.
That needs to continue.
We know about the big seasons Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko are having. Dunn hit his 15th home run Friday night. Konerko leads the majors with a .399 average. However, some other names are beginning to heat up.
Dayan Viciedo raised his average thirty points the last ten games. He drove in nine runs against Cleveland this weekend. Alexei Ramirez banged out six hits over the weekend. Gordon Beckham matched that total, going four-for-four Sunday in a 12-6 win over the Indians.
All of a sudden, this is a lineup that can hurt you from top to bottom. The White Sox have scored nine-plus runs in four straight games heading into action with the Rays Monday. That is their first such streak since 1938.
It isn't going to happen every time out, but it's necessary to get some production from the bottom of the lineup.
It was a pretty good time for the bats to dominate this past weekend, namely because the starting pitching wasn't good.
Over the last five wins, only Chris Sale's seven shutout innings in a 6-0 win over the Twins and Jose Quintana's quality start in the opener of the Cleveland series stood out. The rest of the rotation had a rough go.
Phil Humber gave up five runs in 4.1 innings before Chicago rallied to beat Minnesota Thursday 11-8. Jake Peavy struck out nine Saturday afternoon, but blew an early 4-0 lead with a five-run Cleveland second and allowed seven runs in his 6.1 innings.
Gavin Floyd was just off his game as his breaking stuff decided to take the day off from the 95 degree heat Sunday. He gave up five runs in five innings but, like Peavy, picked up a win because of the White Sox offense.
John Danks was placed on the 15-day DL Friday with soreness in the back of his shoulder, making it necessary for Quintana to start in his place. Danks hasn't thrown well in the first two months and is going to miss at least one more start.
Rios drove in Gordon Beckham in the first inning Sunday with a single to right. He is hitting .281 through May 27 and seems to be picking it up in the power department.
Rios has three home runs in the White Sox current five-game winning-streak. He's also playing a confident right field with the glove.
Personally, I'm just fine with Rios continuing to use the whole field when at bat. There are three Chicago hitters with over ten homers (Dunn, Konerko, Viciedo) so that power doesn't have to come from his bat. Rios has been a more effective player this season because he's not afraid to take the ball to right.
With Brent Morel out with back issues to go with a .177 batting average, manager Robin Ventura will have to find a combination to squeeze some offense from the hot corner.
Ventura's first attempt at plugging the hole has come from recent pickup Orlando Hudson, whom the White Sox signed for the rest of the season following his release by San Diego. Hudson has played his first games at third in his 11-year career.
So far, Hudson is hitting .235 for Chicago with three RBI in his six games. It's not stuff of legend, but an improvement compared to the impotent bat of Morel.
Hudson, Brent Lillibridge and Eduardo Escobar are going to have to hold down third for now until one of three things happen:
1. Morel comes back healthy and effective.
2. Kenny Williams deals for a steady third-sacker.
3. One of the current reserves claims the job.
That looks to be anybody's guess for the next couple of months.
Chicago was 11-10 in May against their four Central Division rivals. They'll have to be better than that to stay in the race. Just not for awhile.
The White Sox now have 24 games outside the division over the next month of the schedule until visiting Minnesota June 25. In fact, from here to the All-Star break, Chicago plays just three division opponents in their next 37 games.
Chicago's non-divisional record stands at 11-11 entering Monday's game with the Rays. Playing winning baseball up to the break is the next mission for the White Sox.