The Chicago White Sox are on a 5-game winning streak, have won 9 of their last 10 games, and now trail the Cleveland Indians in the American League Central division by only a half game. Leadership and strong play from established veterans will help the White Sox pave the road to their first AL Central title since 2008.
Fans who attended the White Sox-Indians game on Sunday at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago saw, in the 4th inning, team leader and first baseman Paul Konerko hit his 400th homerun as a White Sox.
Konerko is one of the greatest White Sox ever. For career franchise records, he ranks 6th or higher in games played, runs scored, hits, home runs, runs batted in, walks, slugging percentage, OPS, and total bases. In 2005, Konerko helped the White Sox break an 88-year World Series drought, so he understands what it takes for this franchise to win.
So far this season—his 14th with the White Sox—the 5-time All-Star is an AL MVP candidate. His .399 batting average is tops in Major League Baseball. Through Sunday’s games, Konerko ranks 2nd in Major League Baseball in on-base percentage (.476), slugging percentage (.681), and OPS (1.157); 3rd in hits (65) and total bases (111); tied for 8th in extra base hits (24); tied for 11th in home runs (11); and tied for 12th in runs batted in (33).
Adam Dunn ranks 2nd in Major League Baseball in walks (39); tied for 2nd in homeruns (15); tied for 5th in extra base hits (25); tied for 8th in runs batted in (35); 13th in slugging percentage (.569); 15th in OPS (.953); and tied for 15th in total bases (95).
Dunn seems to have mentally recovered from his awful 2011 season, when he posted career lows in nearly every offensive category since becoming an everyday player in 2002.
A.J. Pierzynski has always provided leadership from behind the plate, but in 2012, he has contributed greatly at the plate. Through the first quarter of 2012, Pierzynski is on pace to have his best offensive season ever. His .312 batting average matches his best single-season mark (2003), and both his slugging percentage (.539) and OPS (.890) would also be single-season bests.
The 2-time All-Star has hit 8 home runs through Sunday, and is on pace to shatter his current single-season high of 18. The offensive success of Pierzysnki—who is known for his strong defense—has further increased his value to the White Sox. Tyler Flowers, the other (and younger) catcher, should benefit from Pierzynski’s tutelage.
The White Sox signed Orlando Hudson on May 22 after the San Diego Padres released him five days earlier. Everyday third baseman Brent Morel has not played since May 17, as he is recovering from what Merkin reports as a lumbar back strain. Though known as a second baseman, Hudson has held down the hot corner since his arrival in Chicago. When Morel returns to the lineup, “The O-Dog” can mentor young White Sox infielders like Morel, Gordon Beckham, and Eduardo Escobar.
Hudson, a 4-time Gold Glove Award winner, should help improve the White Sox’ already outstanding .988 fielding percentage. Even Dunn, a notoriously poor fielder, had not committed an error through Sunday’s games!
Phillip Humber tossed a perfect game for the White Sox this season, but Jake Peavy has written the best pitching story on the South Side so far in 2012. This is by far Peavy’s best season as a White Sox, and maybe his best season since 2007, when he won pitching’s Triple Crown (wins, earned run average, strikeouts) and the NL Cy Young Award with the San Diego Padres.
Peavy has become the clear ace for the White Sox, who is the only starter at least 30 years old on the roster.
Konerko, Dunn, Pierzynski, Hudson, and Peavy have a combined 65 years of playing experience and 12 All-Star Game appearances. Their ability to lead their team near the top of the division has greatly helped rookie manager Robin Ventura. All of these players besides Hudson should have career seasons in 2012, proving that they remain among the best at their positions through the first two months.
Teams succeed most when veteran players lead by example on the field. The White Sox veteran core has led on the field this season, and continuing to play at this level will bring the AL Central crown to Chicago in 2012.
All statistics were collected from mlb.mlb.com/stats/ and www.baseball-reference.com. All statistics are updated through May 27, 2012.