On the heels of their second straight win over the Minnesota Twins, the Chicago White Sox erased their deficit in the AL Central Tuesday night, reclaiming first place in a division deadlock with the Detroit Tigers.
As July and the MLB trade deadline come to a close, the White Sox have hung around the top of the standings longer than most experts had envisioned back in spring training. The White Sox may make yet another deal this week to improve the team's chances of holding off the Tigers, following the team's acquisition of Kevin Youkilis and Brett Myers this past month.
The White Sox have definitely not coasted to their lofty position in first place, however, recently snapping a five-game losing streak, three losses of which came at the hands of the Tigers this past weekend.
Including their last two wins over the Twins, the White Sox are 5-7 since the All-Star break. They have allowed Detroit back in the race, and after their trade with the Marlins on Monday, the Tigers are set up for another run at the division crown.
With the division races heating up and the flurry of trade activity around the league this past week, the White Sox still find themselves in the conversation of playoff contenders.
Let's take a statistical look at how the White Sox got to this point, as well as spot any trends that might forecast what direction the team is going in during the run to the playoffs.
The White Sox's center continues to be the steady leadership of first baseman Paul Konerko. Even at 36, Konerko continues to set the tone on offense for the team.
Konerko's two homers and four runs batted in over the team's last two games has helped spark the offense, as well as vault the team back into first place, erasing their game-and-a-half deficit to the Tigers.
Konerko's real value is his ability to get on base for the team. While he can still drive in runs out of the cleanup spot to the tune of 48 RBI so far in 2012, Konerko's patience and strong hitter's eye have helped extend numerous innings for the White Sox offense.
At .410, Konerko is the overwhelming OBP leader on the White Sox, with the second-best OBP being that of Kevin Youkilis at .370 in only 24 games with the team. Adam Dunn has the third-best OBP at .353 which is helped by his league-leading 75 base-on-balls.
While Konerko, Youkilis and Dunn have excelled at getting on base, as they all have over most of their careers, the rest of the White Sox lag well behind in getting on base.
Alejandro De Aza has seen his OBP dip since the All-Star break, and is now down to .347, a figure that could be a little higher for a leadoff hitter.
As a whole, the White Sox currently rank 10th in the American League in team OBP, a number that needs to improve if the team wants to stay in first place. With seven more games left on the schedule with the co-leading Detroit Tigers, the White Sox will need to create more run-scoring chances if the pitchers continue to struggle.
Adam Dunn turned the tide in Tuesday night's game, smacking a two-run homer to even the game at 4-4. The White Sox went on to score seven more unanswered runs on their way to victory.
Dunn racked up three hits Tuesday, improving his batting average on the season to .210. Dunn's strength continues to be his ability to get on base via the walk, as well as his hitting the long ball.
Dunn is still the model player of the three true outcomes in baseball: the walk, the strikeout and the home run. Dunn leads the league in walks with 75. He also now has the most homers with 30 long balls. He also is the American League leader with 146 strikeouts.
While it's not always pretty watching how Dunn gets it done, he has returned this season as one of the more productive players in baseball.
Dunn has the fourth-most runs driven in with 71 on the season.
The White Sox finally have the 'Big Donkey' in the middle of their lineup that they thought they were paying for prior to the 2011 season.
Just to compare how much better Dunn has fared this season over last, take a look at his year-to-date numbers compared to his total output for 2011.
Dunn's home runs and runs batted in, as well as his slash line for 2011: 11 HR, 42 RBI, .159/.292/.277.
Dunn's year-to-date totals for 2012 are 30 HR, 71 RBI, .210/.353/.512.
Adam Dunn's slump-busting performance Tuesday as well as his continued success this season should put the White Sox in a better position to take the division crown this year.
Kevin Youkilis, also known as 'The Greek God of Walks', has been rejuvenated since joining the White Sox on June 24.
Since joining the White Sox, Youkilis has smacked five homers in 24 games, one more than he did in 42 games in Boston.
Youkilis has driven in 19 runs in 24 games, including several game-winners. His .370 on-base percentage is second-best on the White Sox.
Youkilis' home/road splits between Boston and Chicago are notable for the giant gulf in the numbers. He has an OBP of .409 at home, while only managing a .274 OBP. on the road. Youkilis has slugged nearly 200 points more at home than away.
As a team, the White Sox have an OPS that is 72 points higher at home than on the road.
While it's not breaking news that a team performs better at home than on the road, the White Sox's splits are interesting this year. If the White Sox do outlast the Tigers in the AL Central, home field advantage will be welcome in any postseason series.
One of the highlights of many this season for the White Sox has been the rebound of Alex Rios, who is enjoying one of his best statistical seasons during his nine-year career.
Rios has bounced back in a big way following his disappointing 2011 season when he managed a dreadful OPS of .613.
He has already belted two more homers this year than he did in all of 2011, and he's driven in 14 more runs than last year in 51 fewer games.
White Sox manager Kenny Williams' acquisition of the high-priced Rios off of waivers in 2009 was puzzling following the bad press Rios was receiving in Toronto, yet Rios played well the following year. He hit 21 homers in 2010 and posted a respectable .791 OPS with the White Sox.
Rios is still owed $25 million through 2014, and after last season's disaster, Williams' Rios grab looked like his career disaster as GM.
Rios has battled through his issues on the field from last year, and is now one of the most important cogs in the White Sox's top-five offense.
He has continued his season-long surge, turning in numerous quality at-bats following the All-Star break. Rios has 13 hits since July 13th, as well as eight runs driven in.
Rios has solidified the middle of the White Sox lineup with his fine performance in 2012, and with his career-high home run output of 24 during the 2007 season in sight, Rios should destroy his personal records this season, once again turning Kenny Williams into the smartest guy in the room.
Once a top-five pitching staff in the American League just a month ago, the White Sox staff has regressed in the second half and is now currently the ninth-ranked pitching staff in the league.
Almost all of the White Sox pitchers are to blame with several recent poor outings turned in by Jake Peavy, Philip Humber, and Gavin Floyd. The bullpen has had its issues as well, most notably during the series finale in Boston last week when Cody Ross went deep on Addison Reed to snatch victory from the White Sox.
Left-handed reliever Matt Thornton began that final inning in Boston and was also ineffective, leaving two runners for Reed.
While it's natural for a team's pitching to ebb and flow throughout the season, the beginning of a tight division race is not the best time for the team's pitching staff to cave in.
The recent addition of reliever Brett Myers should help, as well as the return of Jesse Crain from the disabled list.
Since the All-Star break, the White Sox staff has given up an average of more than five runs per game. The team earned run average has now bulged to 4.07 on the season, worse than the league average.
Two of the White Sox's next three series are against the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels, two potent offenses. The White Sox pitching staff better improve if the team wants to hang onto the division lead.
While the White Sox have three starters with ERA's below 3.25, the rest of the rotation has been a patchwork affair that has frequently let the team down.
Gavin Floyd has been pitching to his career average with a current ERA of 4.46, while Philip Humber has been an unqualified disaster with a 6.25 ERA on the season.
Jose Quintana has been a great find off of the MLB scrap heap. He has consistently given the White Sox quality starts, with Tuesday night's start against the Twins being one of his few hiccups on the season. Without two bad pitches to Josh Willingham during the game, Quintana would have posted yet another scoreless performance.
As the division race continues to heat up, it's imperative that the White Sox staff stops the bleeding and returns to its first-half form.