It's strange but true that when a ball club is obviously playing well above its talent, everyone expects it to regress, but when a ball club is just as obviously playing well below its talent, no one expects it to improve. Whatever hard-wired neurological reasons there are for this tendency, no team this year has suffered so much from it as the Chicago White Sox, who had to reel off a 13 wins in 14 games to get anyone to notice that they've been good all along.
Does that sound absurd? On June 8, the day before they started their run as the hottest team in baseball, the Sox were 24-33 and 9 1/2 games out of first place. Days later, a report broke that manager
Now, not so much. "When things aren't going well," team owner
Over the last two weeks the Sox have whipped good teams in the Tigers and Braves, beaten down the hated Cubs, and thrashed the lowly likes of the Pirates and Nationals. In close ones and blowouts and even in games started by stud pitchers
To understand why the Sox were in such a bad place to begin with, you have to understand their philosophy. On Chicago's South Side, the idea is basically to build a team that will, if everything goes as it should, win about 88 games. With bad luck, such a team will finish a bit below .500; with good luck, it'll win the division and enter the lottery drawing that is playoff baseball. This isn't the most ambitious plan, but it has won a World Series and helped the team avoid the kind of protracted run of bad baseball that can ruin credibility with the public.
This year, the philosophy manifested itself in a nearly total reliance on the starting rotation. On paper, the front four of
Through June 8, Buehrle's ERA was 5.40, Peavy's was 5.90 and Floyd's was 6.18. Making things worse was that three of the team's four most important position players --
Another way to put this is that of the eight players around whom the team is really built, six were playing horrifically bad baseball for no apparent reason. Given the expected atrocious hitting from the soft part of the lineup, players such as
The good part of the story for the Sox is that lately the pitching has been as great as it was lousy -- from June 8 through June 24 the team ERA was 2.13, and of the big four only Danks had a mark over 2.00. (His was 2.05.) This isn't how reversion to the mean is supposed to work; if you have a lot of really good pitchers who have been tossing meatballs, you can expect them to start pitching well eventually, but not really to make up for two months worth of bad play by pitching like a set of
The great part of the story for Chicago, though, is what
What this means is that while the White Sox' recent hot stretch is the result of great pitching, they're not totally reliant on their front four all pitching like vintage
However uninspired the baseball they were playing earlier this year was, the Sox are now in the race and should absolutely be expected to stay in it. More than that, should they make it to October they'll be scary, with a vicious rotation, a deep bullpen, a decent defense and a lineup that's a nice trade or two away from having no obvious soft point. Reinsdorf just could end up being more right than he dreamed.