Chicago White Sox: Grading Each Position at the All-Star Break
The Chicago White Sox lead the American League Central Division by three games at the All-Star break, which is something that almost nobody expected to be saying or hearing this season.
The truth is that not only do the White Sox lead the American League Central, but they also own one of the best records in baseball.
They are definitely a surprise team so far this season, but they aren't doing this with smoke and mirrors—they are a solid baseball team.
With a mix of young and old talent on the roster, the White Sox are finding ways to win ball games and appear to be one of those teams that just has the right makeup and chemistry to be dangerous.
Even with several injuries, particularly to the pitching staff, they just keep plugging guys in and rolling along.
What's almost unheard of is that the current 12 man pitching staff contains seven rookies, and yet the White Sox haven't missed a beat.
Offensively they have gotten production from almost everyone in the lineup led by their captain Paul Konerko as well as A.J. Pierzynski, Alex Rios, Adam Dunn, Kevin Youkilis—and the list goes on.
They have a new hero almost every night and that is the sign of a dangerous team.
They will have to continue to play at a high level in order to hold off both of these teams, and in order to do that, they will have to get continued production from every position.
Here's a look at how they fared at each position in the first half of the season.
There should really be no surprise as to what the grade will be here.
Paul Konerko has been outstanding all year and just seems to be getting better with age.
The average has slipped a bit in recent weeks, but that was expected to happen eventually.
Even so, Konerko is third in the American League with a .329 average to go along with 14 home runs and 42 RBI. As a result, he was selected to his sixth All-Star Game.
He has been stellar as usual at first base, and is the leader of this young ball club that has been surprising everyone all season.
There's really no reason to believe that Konerko won't be just as productive in the second half.
The White Sox have been waiting patiently for Gordon Beckham to show the same promising form at the plate that he displayed during his rookie season, and it seems it may finally be happening.
While he has been spectacular defensively over the past couple seasons, his bat had become invisible and had many people wondering if it would ever come back.
And after hitting just .153 in April to start this season, it didn't look promising.
However, Beckham raised his average by 90 points over the next two-plus months and is hitting .243 with nine home runs and 37 RBI at the break.
He is on pace to have career highs in home runs and RBI, but more importantly, he just looks more comfortable at the plate, and that is good news for Sox fans.
Also, his .986 fielding percentage makes up for any lapses he has at the plate.
Alexei Ramirez is notorious for getting off to a slow start offensively, and this year was no exception.
Ramirez hit .207 in April with one home run and seven RBI, but in typical fashion, Ramirez has progressively been heating it up since then.
He hit .245 in May while driving in 18 runs, then hit .292 in June with 13 RBI. So far in July he is hitting .444 with seven RBI.
And while he is on pace for his lowest home run total in a season, he is also on pace for a career high in RBI.
Much of that is due to the fact that Ramirez has been getting it done when it counts.
His average currently sits at .266, but with RISP he is hitting a robust .397, which is the best in the league.
Defensively, Ramirez has been solid again this year with only seven errors, and he has made several highlight reel plays.
There's no doubt that Kevin Youkilis has been a game changer since arriving in Chicago.
In 13 games on the South Side, Youkilis is hitting .347 with three home runs and 14 RBI and has driven in at least one run in every game the Sox have played in July.
It's too bad he didn't get here sooner or the Sox may have a much bigger lead in the AL Central.
Before "Youk" arrived, the White Sox were getting next to nothing at third base.
In 35 games to start the season, Brent Morel was hitting just .177 with a .225 OBP with no home runs and five RBI before getting injured.
Then it was Orlando Hudson's turn, and he proceeded to hit .175 with a .245 OBP with one home run and 11 RBI in 31 games.
So in 66 games Morel and Hudson combined for a .176 average with one home run and 16 RBI, while in 13 games, Youkilis has more home runs and almost as many RBI—yikes, it's a good thing he's here.
If not for Youkilis the White Sox would surely get an F at third base.
Dayan Viciedo has been up and down during his first full time stint in the big leagues, but overall, he is having a nice rookie year.
The guy they call "tank" is currently hitting .255 with 14 home runs and 39 RBI, and has had some big hits for the White Sox.
Viciedo is hitting a solid .310 with RISP, but the Sox would like to see him improve on his .296 OBP, which includes only 14 walks.
He has also done a nice job defensively, as he has yet to commit an error this year and has shown off his strong arm at times in left field.
Viciedo had a rough April, an outstanding May and a tough time again in June. Hopefully that means he's trending up in July.
Every good team has a leadoff hitter who sets the table, and Alejandro De Aza has been a catalyst for the White Sox offense all season long.
De Aza is currently hitting .283 with five home runs and 32 RBI to go along with 15 stolen bases and 59 runs scored, which is tied for fourth in the league.
Also, one of the most important stats for a leadoff man is OBP, and De Aza is at a respectable .351.
Though he has had a rough start offensively in July, De Aza was great in May and June and has shown the ability not to go into prolonged slumps. The White Sox are hoping that continues.
Defensively, De Aza has been great, committing only one error and showing the ability to track down balls in the gaps.
Alex Rios is simply having a monster season.
After being heavily criticized for his play last season, Rios changed a few things with his mechanics, as well as his approach at the plate, and let's just say it's worked quite well thus far.
Rios is hitting .318 with 12 home runs and 49 RBI, and just seems to be crushing everything he sees.
Even his outs are hit hard, and that's when you know a guy is locked in.
Actually, Rios probably deserved to be in the conversation for the All-Star team, but regardless, he is putting up All-Star numbers.
He has even been better defensively, committing only three errors and making some big plays in right field.
In a lineup that's been getting contributions from everyone, Rios has stood out as one of the top dogs.
A.J. Pierzynksi is having a career year, and it couldn't come at a better time for him, as he is in the last year of his current contract with the White Sox.
Pierzynski is hitting for power like he never has before, with 16 home runs and 49 RBI at the All-Star Break.
His career high for home runs in a season is 18, which came in 2005 with the Sox, and his career high for RBI is 77, which came in 2004 with San Francisco. He is on pace to fly right by both of those numbers this season.
As usual, Pierzynski continues to hit in the clutch as well. He has been near the top of the league all season with a .366 average with RISP.
Defensively he is having his best season throwing out runners with a 31.4% caught stealing percentage. In addition, he has done a great job handling the many White Sox rookie pitchers that have appeared this season, and he has been instrumental in their success.
People love to hate him, but the bottom line is that Pierzynski knows how to play the game and he does it well.
It's hard not to feel good for Adam Dunn this year.
After having one of the worst offensive seasons in baseball history last season, he has rebounded nicely this year.
Dunn is currently hitting only .208, but he has 25 home runs and 61 RBI, both of which are near the top of the league.
His average has dropped quite a bit over the past month and a half, but he still has a nice .357 OBP.
And let's remember, Dunn gets paid to drive in runs, not to hit for average—and that's exactly what he's doing.
Actually, he did it well enough to earn his second All-Star appearance.
Hopefully Dunn can find the form he had early in the season and keep driving in runs for the White Sox.
His presence in the lineup makes a difference.
The fact that the White Sox starting pitching has been as good as it has been is a minor miracle.
They have lost 40 percent of their original starting rotation with injuries to John Danks and Philip Humber, but have somehow found a way to keep things in order and remain in first place.
Of course when you have Chris Sale at the top of the rotation, it helps.
In his first season in the rotation, Sale has gone 10-2 with a 2.19 ERA and earned his first All-Star appearance
He's a dominant No. 1 starter.
Then there's the resurgence of Jake Peavy who is now fully healthy, and it shows, as he has gone 7-5 with a 2.85 ERA. Peavy should probably be 10-2, but he has been the victim of no run support in several of his starts.
Gavin Floyd has started to show signs that he is rounding into form, and if that happens, the White Sox become even more scary. Floyd is currently 7-8 with a 4.54 ERA, but has pitched better recently, and the Sox will need that trend to continue in the second half if they want to remain atop the division.
The real surprise has come from rookie Jose Quintana who was called up from Double-A Birmingham in May to replace the injured John Danks.
Quintana has gone 4-1 with a 2.05 ERA and has pretty much solidified his position in the rotation.
When Danks is able to return, someone is going to be the odd man out of the rotation, and it appears that it will more than likely be Philip Humber.
While Danks wasn't great before getting injured—going 3-4 with a 5.70 ERA—the Sox will welcome him back to the rotation when he is ready. If he can get back to form in the second half, the Sox rotation will be tough to beat.
Humber does have a perfect game under his belt this year, but has really struggled since that time by going 3-4 with a 6.01 ERA. He may be a bullpen candidate when he returns from injury.
Just like the starting rotation, the White Sox bullpen has changed its look since the season began, but they just keep rolling along and getting the job done.
They currently have five rookies in the bullpen thanks to an injury to Jesse Crain and the ineffectiveness of guys like Zach Stewart and Will Ohman.
They started the season with three rookies in Nate Jones, Hector Santiago and Addison Reed, but recently added Leyson Septimo and Brian Omogrosso.
For the most part, they have all done a nice job.
It does appear that the Sox have found a closer in rookie Addison Reed, who has converted 12 of 13 save attempts and is 2-1 overall with a 4.06 ERA.
In addition, Matt Thornton has done a nice job with a 2.89 ERA in 41 appearances, while Jesse Crain has been great as well with 2.38 ERA in 24 appearances.
The White Sox will definitely need a healthy Jesse Crain in the second half, and hopefully Addison Reed will settle into the closer roll and become more comfortable there.
The bullpen will be tested over the next couple of months, and hopefully they can continue to rise to the challenge.
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