The Chicago White Sox's Pitching Gives Reason To Be Cautiously Optimistic

Joe SlowikCorrespondent IJune 29, 2009

CHICAGO - APRIL 07: Mark Buehrle #56 of the Chicago White Sox delivers the ball against the Kansas City Royals during the Opening Day game on April 7, 2009 at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

There are plenty of things to be worried about with the White Sox. The defense has been brutal of late and the offense is horribly inconsistent.

However, the pitching has been a bright spot and has played a major role in keeping the team competitive.

The Sox are currently second in the American League in ERA and appear to be getting better. Gavin Floyd has posted seven straight quality starts, John Danks has an ERA of 2.91 in June, and Jose Contreras has been dominant since his return to the majors.

The bullpen has also been a major plus for the Sox. Their relievers have an ERA of 3.80 on the year and none of their late-inning options has an ERA above 3.21.

What is even more impressive about these numbers is that they are performing despite a home park that is typically among the least forgiving in the league for pitchers.

Very few teams have as much pitching depth as the Sox. They have four above average starters and a bullpen full of strong-armed relievers that can get outs consistently.

They also have another potential difference maker in lefty Aaron Poreda that is just starting his major league career. His explosive fastball makes him a potentially dangerous second lefty out of the pen, and he also has experience as a starter.

I know what some of you are thinking: The pitching may be good, but what about the offense? If it doesn't improve, the Sox are on their way to a fourth place finish.

The offense does need to improve, but they might not be as far off as you would think. On paper, their performance hasn't been that far off from the 2005 season when they won the World Series. A quick statistical comparison:

2005: .262 average, .322 OBP, .425 slugging, .747 OPS, 137 steals, 200 homers, 741 runs scored

2009 (totals are projected): .255 average, .328 OBP, .411 slugging, .739 OPS, 106 steals, 190 homers, 704 runs scored

The 2005 team unquestionably had better situational hitting, but overall the difference isn't as massive as the general perception.

There's one other obvious difference: They were winning. The 2009 staff, while strong, isn't as dominant as the 2005 version either. The '05 Sox tied with Cleveland for the lowest ERA in baseball.

However, the team doesn't necessarily need exponentially better production from the offense to be competitive.

There are a few other things work in the favor of the 2009 Sox.

First off, they probably won't need to win 99 games to take the division title. The Tigers are on pace for 91 wins and are a bit streaky, and the Twins are only one game ahead of the Sox. None of the teams in the AL Central looks like an unbeatable juggernaut.

Secondly, there appears to be some hope for the offense. Scott Podsednik has been a huge boost to the top of the order, and Gordon Beckham seems to be figuring things out after a horrendous start. There's also the chance that Carlos Quentin will be back after the All-Star break, which would be a huge boost if he can actually stay healthy.

I'm not saying that the Sox absolutely will win the division. Thus far the pitching for Minnesota and Detroit has been fairly strong as well and both of their offenses have produced more runs than the Sox.

It will definitely take more consistency for the Sox to repeat as division champs.

However, I do think their pitching will keep them in the conversation for most of the year, and even if they fall short the performance of guys like Buehrle, Danks, and Floyd will make this an exciting team in the future.