The White Sox came into the season with low expectations, at least from the media. Despite having a core group of proven veterans and a handful of promising younger players, the Sox found themselves picked anywhere from third to last in the division.
Now at the midway point of the season the Sox have shown that although they will likely exceed expectations, it’s not all positive for the South Siders.
What Was Expected
The emergence of Carlos Quentin and Alexei Ramirez were pleasant surprises for a club that had struggled to find any younger players to replace part of it’s aging core. Going into this season many said it wasn’t reasonable to expect Quentin to put up numbers similar to last season (36 HR, 100 RBI).
However even with Quentin’s likely regression, it also seemed possibly that captain Paul Konerko wouldn’t struggle to the extreme degree that he did last season (.240 BA, 22 HR, 62 RBI).
As a whole, the Sox offense wasn’t expected to carry the team, but it was expected to be in the upper half of American League offenses if the Sox were to have any chance of repeating as AL Central champs.
Mark Buehrle, John Danks, and Gavin Floyd combined to win 44 games last year. With all three of those pitchers either being in their prime (Buehrle) or approaching their prime years, these three were expected to win somewhere in the ballpark of 45-plus games again.
Numerous computer projections had Floyd winning less than the 17 he did in 2008, but they also had Danks winning more than the 12 he grinded out in the previous campaign.
The back end of the rotation was to be anchored (weighed down?) by Jose Contreras and Bartolo Colon. Colon was making his return to the Sox as a free agent, this time with much less fanfare than when he arrived on the South Side the first time. There weren’t great expectations for these two veterans. If they were able to combing for 300 innings and an ERA around 4.00, Sox coaches and fans alike would be very pleased.
The Bullpen for the Sox was largely unchanged, and with good reason. Matt Thornton, Octavio Dotel, and Scott Linebrink had worked together to from a very effective bridge to closer Bobby Jenks. These four were expected to take the pressure of starters like Contreras and Colon by only needing them to go six innings before the bullpen could take over.
As a whole the expectations for the Sox were mixed. As a team the talent was apparent, but so were the holes. Could the fourth and fifth starters carry their weight? Could the lineup find a lead off man and become something other than a station to station offensive team?
What We’ve Learned
The Sox pitching staff has performed about as well as expected. The top three starters have combined for 23 wins, more than halfway to their win total of last season. Ace Mark Buehrle has accounted for nine of those victories and finds himself in St. Louis preparing for the All-Star game.
The bullpen has had its ups and downs, but mostly ups. Dotel, Linebrink and Thornton have all proved to be valuable late inning pitchers again this season. Meanwhile Bobby Jenks has suffered from Rod Beck syndrome (never having a 1-2-3 ninth inning), but by in large he’s been an effective closer (20 saves, two blown saves).
With the Sox pitching staff we’ve learned that the top three starters might not be the dominant three that some hope for at the top of a rotation, but they’ve pitched very effectively and have kept the Sox in nearly all of their starts this season.
As for the bullpen we’ve learned that the expectations were nearly spot-on. If the Sox were to fall out of contention before the trading deadline, they’ll have tons of value in their bullpen capable of bringing in younger talent.
The Sox bats struggled at the beginning of the season, but have turned it around before the All-Star break.
Carlos Quentin has missed much of the first half, but his absence opened the way for former lead off man Scott Podsednik to return and produce very well. Former first-round pick Josh Fields struggled at third base and has been replaced by 2008 first-round pick Gordon Beckham.
Beckham struggled initially, but has managed a .271 average with three home runs and 20 RBIs on the season—not bad considering he’s only played in 34 games. One of the other biggest surprises has been the resurgence of Paul Konerko. Konerko has hit .302 with 16 homers and 60 runs driven in.
For the Sox offense we’ve learned that the older players such as Konerko, Thome, and Dye still have some pop left in their bats. The emergence of Beckham, and the continued offense from Ramirez have the Sox in contention for another division crown.
Despite all we’ve learned in the first half of the season, the second half might come down to the play of Carlos Quentin upon his return, and whether he can once again produce the MVP-caliber numbers he did last season.