Will the Schedule Play in the Chicago White Sox's Favor Down the Stretch?
Way back in spring training, there was a small contingent of folks who had the Chicago White Sox pegged as one of the worst teams in the American League.
Case in point, Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com talked to one scout who figured the White Sox could lose 100 games this season, something they haven't done in over 40 years.
The White Sox would have to lose 48 games the rest of the way this season to get to 100 losses. Seeing as how they only have 45 games remaining, somebody on the South side of Chicago is going to have to divide by zero in order for things to get weird enough for the White Sox to lose 100 games.
It's far more likely that they'll carry on as they've been carrying on. Their 65-52 record puts them on pace to win right around 90 games, which will probably be good enough for them to capture their first AL Central title since 2008.
Here's the thing, though: Their remaining schedule isn't exactly easy. They're going to do battle against some quality teams, some of whom have had the White Sox's number this season.
New York Yankees (70-48): 3 home
Baltimore Orioles (64-54): 4 away
Tampa Bay Rays (64-54): 4 home
Detroit Tigers (63-55): 3 away, 4 home
Los Angeles Angels (62-57): 3 away
Seattle Mariners (55-64): 3 home
Cleveland Indians (54-64): 3 home, 3 away
Kansas City Royals (51-66): 6 away, 3 home
Minnesota Twins (50-67): 3 away, 3 home
Add up their records, and Chicago's remaining opponents have a collective record of 533-529. That's a winning percentage barely over .500 at .502.
Not exactly an intimidating figure. It is, however, misleading.
Of the nine opponents the White Sox have remaining on their schedule, five have records of better than .500, and they're due to face three of the American League's five best teams in the Yankees, Orioles and Rays.
The White Sox haven't fared particularly well against teams with records of .500 or better. They're just 24-24 against such teams this season, lending credence to the notion that the White Sox are not one of the AL's elite teams (don't shoot the messenger).
Their pitching has performed well enough against the quality teams they've come across this season, posting a 3.74 ERA and a .247 opponents' batting average against teams with records of .500 or better. Against those same teams, however, the White Sox have scored only about 4.4 runs per game, as opposed to better than five runs per game against clubs with below .500 records.
As such, the White Sox are going to need to do themselves a favor by beating up on teams they know they can beat up on.
Teams the White Sox Should Beat
The games Chicago has remaining against quality opponents are squirm-inducing, but the White Sox should be able to master the other opponents on their remaining schedule without too much difficulty.
The 12 games they have left against the Indians and Twins come to mind.
The White Sox have owned the Indians in 2012, posting an 8-4 record against them in 12 games. This includes a 4-2 record against them in Cleveland.
Sox hurlers have been just OK against the Tribe this season, but Sox hitters have clobbered their pitching to the tune of an .830 OPS. Since Cleveland's pitching is a perpetual mess that's not getting any better, expect that to continue.
The White Sox have been even better against the Twins, posting a 9-3 record against Minnesota in 12 games. Sox hurlers own a 3.72 ERA against the Twins, and Sox hitters have pounded Twins pitchers for 21 home runs. They haven't hit more than 16 home runs against any other club.
If the White Sox can win nine or 10 of their 12 remaining games against the Indians and Twins, they'll be in very good shape.
There are other teams besides these two clubs that the White Sox should do fine against, but there's enough evidence to suggest that it won't be so simple.
The White Sox should steamroll the Royals and Mariners, and they have to be just as good as the Angels, Orioles and Rays, right?
Not so fast.
The Royals have handled themselves well against the White Sox, posting a record of 5-4 against them so far this season. Their pitching can be an adventure, but Royals hurlers have managed to hold White Sox hitters to just 27 runs in the nine games the two teams have played this season.
Nor will the Mariners. The White Sox have a 5-1 record against them this season, but the M's have a 19-13 record in the second half of the season and have generally been a tough team to beat ever since Ichiro was traded. The young guys have stepped up.
Fortunately, the Sox are in line to miss Felix Hernandez, but they will come up against Jason Vargas, who has an ERA under 2.00 in his last nine starts and was recently seen out-pitching Jered Weaver.
Meanwhile, the four-game series the White Sox will play in Baltimore at the end of the month should not be underestimated. The White Sox lost three out of four against the O's when they played them in Chicago way back in April, and the O's haven't changed a whole lot since then.
Their starting pitching is still a mess and their offense can be unpredictable, but they're winning games anyway and the last thing any team wants to do is engage them in a close battle. Baltimore is a staggering 22-6 in one-run games.
The Rays are another opponent that should not be underestimated. The White Sox swept them in Tampa Bay way back in May, but that was when the Rays were without Evan Longoria and their starting pitching was underachieving.
Longoria is back now, and Rays pitchers have a 2.15 ERA since the All-Star break. They could easily come into Chicago and take the four-game series the two clubs have lined up in late September.
And then there are the Angels, who have overtaken the Tigers as the most enigmatic team in the American League. They have a ton of talent, but they're having a hard time translating their talent into wins these days (much to the delight to those who see them as a Yankees wannabe).
This is thanks largely to their bullpen, which has an 8.02 ERA and five losses in the month of August. If their bullpen is still in disarray by the time they're ready to face the White Sox in late September, odds are the Angels will have already fallen out of the race completely.
The White Sox aren't going to be that lucky. Once Scott Downs and Jordan Walden are back healthy, the crisis that currently is the Angels bullpen should calm down.
So don't expect the White Sox to own the Royals, Mariners, Orioles, Rays and Angels. They'll be OK if they break even, and surely in very good shape if they do end up owning these five teams.
They'll be in even better shape if they can own the two toughest teams they're scheduled to face down the stretch.
Two teams loom large on the White Sox's remaining schedule: the New York Yankees and the Detroit Tigers.
The good news for the White Sox when they go strolling into New York next week is that due to the Yankees' many injuries, the Sox will be facing a Yankees team that is as undermanned as any in recent memory.
The bad news for the White Sox is that this undermanned version of the Yankees is still pretty good. They just took three out of four from the Texas Rangers, and they made it look pretty easy.
The White Sox will miss Hiroki Kuroda in next week's series, but they will face the strangely effective Freddy Garcia and 11-game winners Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes. Escaping New York with a series victory would be nice, but the White Sox should feel content if they escape with just one win in the series.
As for the seven games the White Sox have remaining against the Tigers, well, let's just say those games are kinda important.
The White Sox haven't fared well against the Tigers this season. Detroit owns a 7-4 record against the White Sox in 2012, and the Tigers swept them in convincing fashion the last time these two teams hooked up at Comerica Park in July. The sweep briefly knocked the White Sox out of first place for a short time before the Tigers went back to underachieving.
The White Sox will return to Comerica in late August, and it's looking like they're going to come up against both Doug Fister and Justin Verlander if the Tigers keep their rotation intact over the next couple of weeks.
That's a scary thought. Verlander has been lights-out all season, and Fister has a 1.52 ERA since the All-Star break. Just as they were in the second half of 2011, Verlander and Fister have become one of the AL's most lethal tandems.
The White Sox and Tigers will hook up once again in a four-game series starting on September 10. That series could easily decide the fate of the AL Central.
Needless to say, the White Sox can't afford to lose it.
The White Sox should be able to manhandle the Indians and Twins without too much difficulty. It's the other seven teams they're scheduled to face that represent the problem.
They could very easily end up with a losing record against the Yankees and Tigers, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if they just barely managed to break even against the likes of the Royals, Mariners, Orioles, Rays and Angels. If the Tigers manage to stop underachieving to beat up on teams other than the White Sox down the stretch, they could very well win the division.
Note the word choice. "Could" is not the same as "will."
If the White Sox own the Indians and Twins and break even against the other seven opponents remaining on their schedule, a reasonable expectation for their final 45 games would be a 25-20 record.
And that would give them 90 wins on the season, exactly the figure they're on pace to achieve.
The Tigers are on pace to win 86 games this season. The pressure is on them to play their best baseball down the stretch, not the White Sox.
Special thanks to Baseball-Reference.com for providing the key stats.
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