The Chicago White Sox have been chasing the Detroit Tigers in the standings since before the All-Star break. Though Detroit holds a 2.5 game lead entering today's games, they're not exactly doing much to extend that lead.
The Tigers are only 17-19 since the All-Star break. The problem is that the Sox are only 18-18 themselves, and have a tough schedule coming up.
Which team is better equipped to win this division and make some noise in the playoffs? This is my own quick comparison of the two. Obviously, I'm a Sox fan, so I may be a bit biased, but I'm trying to be objective.
Starting pitching: Advantage—Tigers
Though both teams are near the top of the AL in starter ERA, Detroit holds the lead: 4.22 to 4.31. Edwin Jackson and Justin Verlander have both been excellent this season. Though he's been inconsistent, Rick Porcello has also been solid.
The acquisition of Jarrod Washburn also is a factor in my decision in this area. Though he hasn't been good for the Tigers thus far and he's about a full run below his career ERA this year, even the most cynical observers would admit that Jarrod is at worst an average starter.
While the Sox have generally received solid performances from Mark Buehrle, John Danks, and Gavin Floyd, the back end of the rotation has been far less dependable.
Even if you include the 14 passable starts from Clayton Richard, and the 12 starts from Bartolo Colon where his 4.19 ERA was better than his performance warranted, the Sox' ERA in the 49 games that Buehrle, Floyd, and Danks didn't start is 5.03.
While the Sox generally get pretty good starting pitching, the Tigers have been better.
Offense: Advantage—White Sox
The Sox may only have ten more runs scored than the Tigers on the season, but that total is a bit misleading.
Why do you ask? The Sox have added a number of pieces to bolster their offense as the season has gone on.
Early in the season, the Sox were regularly using Josh Fields and Brent Lillibridge. Both of them were awful. Brian Anderson and Dwayne Wise also received far too many at-bats, especially while Carlos Quentin was on the disabled list.
None of those guys are on the roster anymore. Gordon Beckham and Scott Podsednik have been solid since they were added to the roster, Carlos Quentin returned from injury, and Alex Rios was claimed off waivers. The Sox now have a lineup that can hurt you from every spot in the lineup, though they don't always do it.
The Tigers have actually had the worst offense in the AL since the break ,with only 144 runs in 36 games (an average of 4). While the Sox are still only ninth in runs over that same stretch, they've still scored 21 more runs than the Tigers.
Bullpen: Advantage—White Sox
I have heard a number of Sox fans gripe about "the bullpen woes." It may seem like the Sox pen blows a lot of games, but they're actually third in the AL in bullpen ERA. Matt Thornton and Octavio Dotel have both been excellent, D.J. Carrasco has been solid as a long reliever, and has been good outside of a bad 7 1/3 innings in July.
Detroit simply doesn't have as many dependable bullpen options, which is why their bullpen ERA is around half a run higher than the Sox. Ryan Perry and Fernando Rodney are decent but not stellar and Brandon Lyons and Bobby Seay have been a bit better.
This one isn't particularly close. The Sox have 93 errors on the year. That's 16 more than the Tigers, and the most in the AL. The Sox make a number of mental mistakes, and their outfield has lacked range most of the season.
Alex Rios does help the defense, and Beckham has been better of late, but the Sox will still cost themselves some runs because of iffy defense.
These two teams are relatively evenly matched, which is why they're so close in the standings. The Sox probably have more talent, but the Tigers have two starting pitchers that have been better than anyone on the Sox. They also make fewer defensive miscues.
If one of these teams is going to get hot and pull away from the division, I think it will be the Sox. If their offense can get hot with their pitching staff, they can win a lot of games against pretty much anyone in the league.
They could also be essentially out of the race after the road trip they just started, though. They can't afford to give away games like they have recently against teams like Baltimore, Seattle, and Cleveland.
If they can win at least five of these eleven games, they should be in decent shape. Neither the Tigers nor Twins seem to be capable of making a big run, especially since the Tigers' schedule isn't much easier.
I'm trying to keep my faith in the Sox; however, the games they have lost against weaker opponents over the last few weeks could come back to haunt them if they don't improve their consistency.