After going 47-38 before the All-Star break, a stretch during which the division rival Detroit Tigers were just three games over .500 sitting at 45-42, it now appears that the Chicago White Sox division lead is but a thing of the past.
Currently sitting two games behind the Tigers with just six games left in the regular season, it looks like the White Sox may be on the outside looking in during October.
How did this happen? For the first half of the season, the Tigers looked like the underachieving team of the year. How could an acquisition as prominent as Prince Fielder lead to such a mediocre record?
After all, with a 3-4 punch of Fielder and triple crown threat Miguel Cabrera to go along with reigning AL MVP and current Cy Young candidate Justin Verlander seems like a lock for the playoffs on paper, especially in such a notoriously weak division that features the Minnesota Twins, Kansas City Royals, and the Cleveland Indians.
And for the first half of the year, everything was going right for the White Sox. Jake Peavy had emerged as the starter they traded for from the San Diego Padres. Chris Sale put up Cy Young-worthy numbers.
Adam Dunn followed a miserable 2011 campaign by hitting 41 home runs (currently fourth in the AL) along with 98 RBI and now looks like the favorite to win the Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Perennial underachiever Alex Rios posted a .298 batting average.
Even at age 36, Paul Konerko is still batting .298 after an incredible start to the season.
After hitting 17 home runs in the last two seasons combined, catcher A.J. Pierzynski currently has 27 long balls on the season.
Will the Chicago White Sox make the playoffs?
So what happened? Well, the White Sox were 72-59 heading into September, meaning they held a record of 25-21 after the break with a month left to play. Not a bad record, but not playoff-caliber. Over that stretch, the Tigers were 25-19, so they only picked up one game in the standings.
However, September was the beginning of the end for Chicago. The White Sox are 12-9 so far this month. Not terrible, but it's not like they're helping their cause either.
But if you look closely at their competition over the last month, you begin to realize that it was much more of a collapse than their record entails.
To start off, they're 2-4 against Detroit this month, and it's never a good thing to surrender two games to the team chasing you for a playoff spot.
Against teams they have played this month that are still in playoff contention (Detroit, the Los Angeles Angels, and the Tampa Bay Rays), the White Sox are a combined 2-8. If you can't beat playoff-caliber teams, you're not going to get into the playoffs. And if you somehow manage to, don't expect to perform well.
To make matters worse, against teams out of contention they faced this month (Twins, Indians, Royals) the White Sox are just 8-7. When it comes to September, if you want to make it to the playoffs, settling for a split series with a bad team is not going to get you to October.
Despite winning two series against Minnesota, losing one to Cleveland and two to Kansas City isn't exactly lifting your team into the playoffs.
Detroit, on the other hand, is 14-11 over the month of September so far. Not bad, but it's not like they're playing out of their mind either.
Despite going 4-2 against Chicago, they got swept in a three game series against the Angels and won two of three against Oakland. However, the Tigers are taking advantage of the poor teams in their division, which the White Sox can't seem to do.
How does this compare to last year with the Tampa Bay Rays surpassing the Boston Red Sox on the final game of the season thanks to an Evan Longoria walk-off home run?
Well for starters, it's less dramatic and without nearly as much intensity. The White Sox didn't have a nine game lead on September 3, and the Tigers didn't play terrific September baseball either. Despite these facts, the White Sox clearly underachieved this month, and it will likely cost them a playoff spot.
Before we write off Chicago entirely, the season is not over. To be fair, the White Sox still have six games to catch the Tigers and reclaim that top spot in the AL Central.
However, they have three games against the surging Rays, who have fought back into contention by winning eight consecutive games. The White Sox close out the season with three games against Cleveland.
While it's plausible that the White Sox could make a run in these six games, it's not so promising when you take a look at Detroit's schedule. Finishing the year with three games in Minnesota followed by three in Kansas City is a much easier path, and with a two-game cushion, might be all they need to seal the deal.
In conclusion, if the White Sox miss the playoffs, it will not be anywhere near as catastrophic as Boston last year, especially when you look at expectations coming into the season.
The White Sox weren't expected to make the World Series, let alone the playoffs, and didn't go 7-20 over the last month to fall flat. They didn't have in-house controversies such as the chicken and beer escapade. However, they still had a smaller scale September meltdown, and this is worth pointing out.