Riding a five-game winning streak into the final day before the All-Star break, the Chicago White Sox have quieted the chorus of preseason naysayers by sitting comfortably atop the AL Central division.
White Sox All-Stars Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko have led the charge on offense, while All-Star pitchers Chris Sale and Jake Peavy have been locking down opposing hitters all season. The White Sox currently have reached their high-water mark for the year at 10 games over .500.
Acquired in a June 24th trade with the Boston Red Sox, Kevin Youkilis has breathed new life into his somewhat sagging career. Youkilis, who continued his season-long struggles immediately after joining the White Sox, has been gaining new Chicago fans every day during the White Sox's current six-game homestand, going 8-for-19 with three homers and nine runs driven in through five games.
Following a three-game sweep of the two-time defending AL Champion Texas Rangers this past week, the White Sox still find themselves in the playoff hunt, just months after an excruciating offseason when fan expectations were quite low.
Now at the halfway point in the season, all the talk of rebuilding and a talent-poor farm system seems to be a distant memory. This White Sox team is emerging as contenders, and the White Sox faithful should be checking into U.S. Cellular Field in droves this summer to see how it will all play out.
With the team's outlook suddenly looking much more upbeat these days, should White Sox fans temper their rebooted expectations, or should they get out the paintbrush and splash "Youk!" all over their poster boards?
Here are seven bold White Sox predictions for the second half of the season.
White Sox general manager Kenny Williams won't be content waving a white flag this season.
While his predecessor did just that with the White Sox only 3.5 games behind the division-leading Cleveland Indians in 1997, Williams will likely get the green light on any trades to help this season's team reach the postseason.
This scenario has already likely been proven with the recent trade for third baseman Kevin Youkilis. For a team that was hungry for prospects this offseason, they might part with some mid-level minor league talent in hopes of landing an extra arm for the bullpen, or a proven veteran to shore up the bench.
Before the season, it wasn't hard to figure out that the White Sox would likely be sellers come the July trade deadline, especially if high-priced 2011 underachievers Adam Dunn and Alex Rios continued their career slides, bringing the rest of the team down with them.
Both Dunn and Rios have bounced back with excellent performances this season, along with the rejuvenated Jake Peavy, making it difficult for the White Sox to trade players such as Gavin Floyd, Peavy or even Gordon Beckham to other possible contending teams.
The White Sox look to have a chance at some postseason glory, and the rebuilding project will have to wait another year. Look for the White Sox to add another piece to their surging team before the trade deadline.
One of the most frustrating White Sox players for fans is pitcher Gavin Floyd. Floyd has failed to deliver since his stellar 2008 campaign (17-8, 3.84 earned run average).
Floyd is wildly inconsistent, going from throwing a gem in one start to getting shelled in the next. The team still holds out hope that Floyd will figure it out some day, and on days such as his recent performance against the Blue Jays, it once again appears that he's turned a corner.
In six of his seven wins this season, Floyd has given up no more than five hits in each outing. With his sweeping curveball working, Floyd can look dominant at times.
Floyd takes an ERA of 4.54 into the All-Star break, just a shade over his career average of 4.53.
What makes Floyd look so promising for the second half are some of his peripheral numbers through his 16 starts this season.
Floyd currently has a career-high strikeout-per-nine ratio of 8.3, well beyond what he has done over the last few seasons.
Floyd is enjoying his second-best strikeout-to-walk ratio this season, and although his home runs per nine have seen an uptick this season, he has only allowed one home run during his seven wins.
With Jake Peavy nursing injuries over the past couple pf seasons, chances are Peavy will regress a bit in the second half, as well as see more rest and skipped starts.
If Floyd can string together a few more brilliant performances, he might catch fire and surpass Peavy's on the depth chart.
Like most of the White Sox hitters in 2011, Gordon Beckham reached a low point in his career last season.
His numbers resembled a light-hitting '80s-era infielder. With a feeble final slash line of .230/.296/.337, Beckham was looking to be on his way out of town, only a few seasons after being declared the next big thing in Chicago.
Even with a renewed focus in 2012, Beckham still has been a bit off the mark at the plate. While his fielding skills have not diminished, Beckham's on-base percentage is currently under .300. Despite a brief stint batting second, Beckham has again been banished to the ninth spot in the lineup.
Beckham has shown signs of life with the bat, however, and is currently projected to hit a career-high 18 home runs this season. His current slugging percentage of .380, while not too impressive, is his highest since his 2009 rookie season.
While most teams don't expect much out of their No. 9 hitter, it would be a bonus for the once-hyped Beckham to deliver on some of the promise he held as a hot MLB prospect back in 2009.
A sign that Beckham may continue his improvement over the previous two seasons is that he might just be warming up this season after his nine-homer, 37 RBI performance in the first half.
Beckham's OPS for his career is 111 points higher in the second half of seasons. With that in mind, the White Sox might get a nice boost from the bottom of their lineup in the second half.
Aside from his perfect game thrown against the Seattle Mariners back in April, Philip Humber has struggled mightily this season.
Even with the perfect game under his belt, Humber's ERA sits at 6.01 after 12 starts.
While Humber nurses his right elbow flexor strain, the performance of lefty Jose Quintana may make Humber the odd man out in the rotation, especially when John Danks returns from the disabled list.
Humber was quite a find for the White Sox in 2011. After being passed up by several teams since 2006, Humber pitched brilliantly in the first half of last season, a lone bright spot for the team in the early months of 2011.
With an 8-5 record and a 3.10 ERA at the All-Star break last season, Humber was a lock for the White Sox starting rotation for years to come.
After suffering a huge drop-off in the second half of last season, on top of his struggles this season, Humber might be banished to the bullpen, or worse.
He does carry a SO/9 ratio of 8.4 this season, and as he showed in his perfect game, he can be dominant at times.
Humber has been reportedly progressing nicely during his rehab starts, and could return shortly after the All-Star break.
Whether he's starting or coming out of the bullpen, Humber should make some contributions to the White Sox's playoff push, and prove that his perfect game was no fluke.
While White Sox general manager Kenny Williams was regularly beaten up by the media this past offseason, the crosstown rival Chicago Cubs made a big splash by making former Boston Red Sox GM Theo Epstein the Cubs' president of baseball operations.
Epstein also brought in some talented young former colleagues such as Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod, who now make up sort of a dream team of new-era front office executives.
Even with a team that has predictably played poorly for most of the season, Epstein and the Cubs have received the lion's share of media attention in Chicago this season.
Epstein's every move was chronicled and rumored before he arrived in Chicago. A Cub fan even made headlines (via the Chicago Tribune) for spotting Epstein in a Chicago-area Starbucks.
Following Kenny Williams' smart trade bringing Kevin Youkilis to the White Sox, Williams is likely headed back into the good graces of White Sox fans and White Sox beat reporters.
While the White Sox's win total has been mounting, the last-place Cubs organization has also been striking out in the public relations and political arenas.
As reported in USA Today, Joe Ricketts, head of the Ricketts family who now owns the Cubs, made news this past month by being publicly linked to a negative ad campaign against President Obama that was in the works.
The Cubs are currently trying to land public money to finance a Wrigley Field renovation. Former Obama aide, and now mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel has other ideas.
Assuming the White Sox enjoy increased attendance following the team's impressive first half, coupled with the Cubs' struggles this season, White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and Williams will once again be the talk of the town as they were in 2005 following their World Series win, making the Cubs' new brain trust a distant memory, for now.
One of the earliest positive angles emerging from the White Sox's 2012 campaign has been Chris Sale. The first-half numbers for the 23-year-old Sale are astounding.
Sale has a 10-2 record with a 2.19 ERA, second-best in the American League. His WHIP is below 1.00, and he has struck out 98 batters in 102 innings.
Sale even recently tamed the high-powered Texas Rangers, holding the defending AL champs to one run on five hits over 7.1 innings.
The former reliever has mixed his lethal fastball with a hard-breaking curveball to baffle American League hitters all season.
With continued good health, and a young arm, Sale should continue his rise as one of the game's best starters.
While it's a bit premature to crown Sale as a Cy Young Award winner based on half a season, if the White Sox land a playoff spot, and Sale continues being a major part of that, he will no doubt be in the mix for some hardware after the World Series.
The White Sox will win the AL Central this season. Despite recently sweeping the Texas Rangers, the White Sox might not have enough firepower to get by the Rangers in the postseason. Sorry, I'm just not that bold yet.
The trade for Kevin Youkilis all but declares the White Sox as being fully invested in winning this season. While the team continues to hit on all cylinders going into the All-Star break, and with dark days ahead with a depleted farm system, there's no doubt that team will put in all the necessary resources to try to hold off the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians.
Despite all of the Prince Fielder hype this offseason, the Tigers are beatable. They struggle to score runs at times, have somewhat mediocre pitching, and have one of the worst defenses in the league.
The Indians just do not have enough talent on their pitching staff to make a legitimate run toward a division title.
The White Sox's strength going into the season was their pitching staff, and despite success this season, the pitching contributions have come from unexpected sources.
The White Sox should acquire some veteran help in the bullpen to help rookies Addison Reed and Nate Jones, as well as veterans Matt Thornton and the recently injured Jesse Crain.
As long as Adam Dunn and Alex Rios continue playing at a high level following their disastrous 2011 performances, the White Sox lineup should continue putting up big numbers as it has all season.
Following a depressing run-up to spring training with some questionable moves this offseason, Kenny Williams and the White Sox now find themselves in the conversation of playoff contenders.
Anything less than a division title, following their excellent first half, would be a major disappointment.