Chicago White Sox Vying for AL Central: Who Will Keep Them from MLB Playoffs?
Though the 2011 MLB season for the Chicago White Sox has not been as successful as forecast, the team is only 3.5 games back of the Detroit Tigers for first place in the meager American League Central.
The key component to the surge for first is the same for any team looking to capture a playoff spot: beat the divisional opponents.
Since the All-Star break, the White Sox are 7-4, having played all their games against foes in the AL Central. Though this has been a decent start, the White Sox know that this trend has to continue, especially after playing so poorly against their divisional opponents all season long.
Here are the teams that are most likely to keep the White Sox from winning their first AL Central title since 2008.
5. Kansas City Royals
The Kansas City Royals have long been the doormat of the American League Central. Being perennial bottom-dwellers of the division also makes them accustomed to another role: spoiler.
Just ask the 2006 Detroit Tigers, who were in first place all year long until the final weekend when they faced off against a pesky Kansas City club. After being swept in three games, the Twins took the division from the Tigers on the final day of the season, leaving Detroit to settle for the Wild Card.
The White Sox have lost four of their last six against the Royals and will play 10 more games against them before the season is over.
Though the Royals are in last place once again, they will have a big part in determining who walks away with the division.
4. Cleveland Indians
So far this season, the Cleveland Indians have been one of baseball's feel-good stories.
They have led the AL Central for most of the year, but the Tribe are falling fast. The White Sox match up well with Cleveland, having won six of the seven meetings so far.
Even though the Indians may be in a bit of a tailspin, the White Sox should know to never underestimate the heart of an underdog.
The Indians are a scrappy bunch who have kept their heads above water while some of their biggest stars have spent time on the disabled list.
Currently, Cleveland is in second place and only two games back of Detroit. If the Indians keep it together down the stretch, they could be a big threat to win the division.
3. Minnesota Twins
The Twins, much like the White Sox, have had a very underwhelming 2011 season to this date.
Their lack of success is due in large part to Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer being on the disabled list for long periods of time. Mauer is back and up to his old tricks, hitting everything in sight, especially against the White Sox.
Minnesota is once again dominating the White Sox again when it comes to head-to-head competition, just as it has in recent history. Francisco Liriano no-hit Chicago on May 3, only adding to the headaches the Twins usually deliver to the White Sox.
The Twins have been right behind the White Sox all season long and are only six games back of first.
No one, especially White Sox fans, should be surprised if they finish the season as AL Central champions, considering Minnesota has won the division seven times since 2002.
Expect the usual late-season charge from Ron Gardenhire's club.
2. Detroit Tigers
The Tigers have been competitive the past few seasons but have never won an AL Central title.
With Detroit seemingly in the driver's seat of the division, that could change come October.
It's no surprise that the Tigers find themselves in first place this late in the season considering the talent the club boasts.
Justin Verlander has been the most dominating pitcher in the American League this season (my apologies to CC Sabathia), and Miguel Cabrera is on pace for another .300 year with 30-plus home runs and 110-plus runs batted in.
Jose Valverde has been stellar in the closer's role, going 27-of-27 in save opportunities with an ERA a shade over three.
The White Sox have won the last four of six games against Detroit, but don't expect the Tigers to go down easily.
The disciplinarian Jim Leyland has his team on the right track, with all eyes in Detroit on an AL Central title.
1. The White Sox Themselves
The Chicago White Sox' biggest threat to keeping them from winning the AL Central title is the Chicago White Sox.
No, this isn't some odd ending to a Stephen King novel; it's the frightening reality the White Sox must deal with. You can start anywhere you like with this team. The possibilities are endless.
Of course, the most obvious problem this year has been the struggles of Adam Dunn. He has done better since the beginning of the second half, however. A return to the Dunn of old will surely bring the White Sox the title.
The rotation has had its troubles too, but John Danks is starting to turn it around, which will ultimately put the White Sox in a better place. Jake Peavy is still a huge question mark, but even if he improves, the South Siders will propel to first.
Gordon Beckham has been terrible on offense, but his defense is top notch. Brent Morel hasn't been the third baseman we expected, but he's still young, and he is by no means an automatic out.
The White Sox have been mediocre at best this year, but they are within shouting distance of the top of the division. If the subpar performers of the club turn it on a little and the White Sox continue to win divisional games, the AL Central crown is theirs to take.