As we hit the home stretch of the MLB season, there's no clear-cut favorite in the American League Central. Now, if you had told me that it would be a two-team battle before the start of the season, I (and most everybody who tried to predict the 2008 season) would have thought it'd be between the Indians and Tigers.
Well, it's between the White Sox and Twins, and that generally spells doom for the White Sox—see the 2003, 2004, and 2006 seasons for reference. My colleague Tony DeMarco just wrote up his five reasons why the Twins will take the division, and all are valid points, so I strongly encourage you to take a look at the piece.
However, there are reasons why the White Sox will emerge with the central division title in late September, so don't fret, White Sox fans.
1. The Republicans, Rays, and Indians: In a previous article, I explained how the Republican National Convention has pushed the Twins out on a tough 14-game road trip—and, so far, things have not gone well for the Twins, as they are 3-5 against the Angels, Mariners, and A's through eight games on the road.
They still have six more—three in Oakland and three in Toronto—before they can finally return home, but they only get six games in Minneapolis before they have to head back out on the road on a ten-game road trip in which they play Cleveland four times and Tampa Bay three times. Considering that Cleveland and Tampa Bay have been playing extremely well lately—especially Cleveland—it won't be an easy stretch for the Twins.
2. Have no fear, Qperman is here: Carlos Quentin has made more of an impact than anybody could have imagined before the start of the season—and, as we stand here on August 29, he's the clear frontrunner for American League MVP.
Nobody has meant more to their team than Quentin, who comes into Friday's game against Boston hitting .292 with 36 home runs and 100 RBI—has to the White Sox. Whenever the White Sox need a rally started, Quentin can be counted on. If they need a home run, Quentin is the guy to look to. And there's nobody I'd rather have up in a big-game situation than Quentin.
He's a reason to throw out the White Sox' recent history of dropping the division to the Twins, because all those teams did not have the "Q" factor.
3. The re-emergence of Javier Vazquez: For a span of two months, the only thing the White Sox could count on out of a start by Vazquez was a poor performance. It appeared that he lost his competitive fire on the mound from June through July, but all of a sudden, he regained that starting in mid-August.
Vazquez has looked very good in his last three starts against Kansas City, Oakland, and Tampa Bay—and the key has been that he isn't fooling around on 0-2 counts trying to nibble and get strikeouts. When Vazquez doesn't concentrate on solely striking out hitters, he's a far better pitcher—and, ironically, he gets more strikeouts.
He's looked like an ace in the last few weeks, and if he can keep that up, it'll be big for the White Sox down the stretch.
4. The big, tall, wide guy: I recognize that the Twins have an excellent closer in Joe Nathan, but the White Sox have pretty good one themselves in Bobby Jenks. While Jenks' strikeouts have been down this year, his performance hasn't dipped at all, as he's saved 26/29 games with a 1.68 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and .568 opponent OPS. Like Nathan, Jenks has been battle-tested in a pennant race, so the White Sox should feel comfortable with Jenks taking the mound to close a game out in the ninth inning.
5. The experience factor: I know, I know, experience usually doesn't mean anything when you're going up against the Twins. However, the White Sox have far more experience with late-season playoff races than their rivals to the north.
Orlando Cabrera, AJ Pierzynski, Jermaine Dye, Jim Thome, Ken Griffey Jr., Paul Konerko, Mark Buehrle, Octavio Dotel, Vazquez, and Jenks all have good experience with playoff races in their careers. Unless you're team is loaded with talent (like Tampa Bay or Colorado last year), teams that don't have the mettle to deal with the pressure of a playoff race are far more likely to fade down the stretch than those with it.