September 20, 2005
Despite having the best record in baseball for most of the season, the Chicago White Sox haven't received a lot of national media attention, especially with beloved East Coast teams like Boston and New York still in the playoff hunt. Suddenly, however, media outlets everywhere are talking up the Pale Hose before and after every commercial break. Baseball Tonight, ESPN Radio, and all non-Bristol based outlets in between suddenly have something to say. Are the White Sox finally being given their due? Not quite. With the Indians looming just 2 1/2 games behind in the AL Central, the PTI contingencies want to discuss what they believe could be the biggest choke job in American League history. Putting the story ahead of the facts, however, is this current White Sox team really in the midst of "choking" away a title? On to the facts:
The above table shows that the White Sox turned a hot start into a hot season, amassing a record of 30 games over .500 by late July. Since July 27, they have had their ups and downs, but are still slightly north of .500 the past couple months. Looking at the five other first place teams, only three of the six teams are still winning at a first place level. The only difference is that the team chasing the other five division leaders isn't currently in a 36-12 stretch with the best record in baseball since April 22. As for taking care of themselves, the White Sox are 43-18 in their division and swept a four game series in Cleveland the last time the two teams met. The one thing Chicago can't control is when Cleveland beats someone else, which they have been doing handily.
I am not an apologist for the White Sox, but before the noose can be tightened around the collective neck of Ozzie Guillen's crew, it should be noted that while a 15 game lead on August 1 has eroded into just 2 1/2 games, it is still a LEAD. The real truth is that Chicago largely outperformed its talent level most of the season, relying on the unlikely dominance of Jon Garland, Dustin Hermanson, and some young bullpen arms to win more than its share of 1-run games this summer. With Garland and others settling down into their normal expectations, the White Sox are playing slightly better than .500 ball, which is realistically where they belong.
Luckily, (or more appropriately, "deservingly"), Chicago overachieved so much earlier in the season that they have been able to fight off the surging Indians, who deserve much more credit than they receive. Look up the career numbers of regulars like Dye, Rowand, Crede, Uribe, Garland, Hermanson, etc. - it doesn't look like the numbers from a last place team, but it certainly doesn't look like a team that is a small hot streak away from 100 wins. Guillen has managed to make the collective whole much better than the sum of its parts, and for that he should be commended.
Cleveland's season-long winning streak is putting more pressure on the Yankees and Red Sox than the White Sox because the AL East loser will be watching October baseball from home as it stands right now. With Boston only 1/2 game ahead of New York, there is a lot more at stake on the East Coast than the Midwest right now.
Still, naysayers (and Cubs' fans) are ready to spell out the doom which would await the White Sox if they somehow manage to miss the playoffs this year. If a team is capable of a 15 game lead in August, should it be capable of holding onto it? Yes. If a team blows a lead that big, would it be a major disappointment, regardless of how well the Indians play? Yes. If Cleveland wins the division by a game and Chicago sweeps Boston in the first round, will anyone remember the regular season? No.
For White Sox fans, it will all come down to what happens in the playoffs. Losing a division title will mean nothing unless it also means losing a playoff spot. 100 wins and a first round loss will bring no happy returns to Chicago baseball fans on the South Side. Like Boston, Florida, and Anaheim, however, Chicago fans will gladly forget September for a memorable October.