By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) The White Sox are in the process of chasing down the Cleveland Indians for first place in the A.L. Central.
The above statement would seem a lot more likely if the Sox were chasing down the Tribe for third or fourth place, not first place.
When the season started, the White Sox appeared to have decent starting pitching, but question marks everywhere else. Question marks might have been a kind way to describe the batting order. Swiss cheese might have been more like it. The White Sox lineup seemed to have more holes than anything else with Adam Dunn, Brent Morel, Gordon Beckham and Alex Rios all manning starting spots. If you were pitching against the White Sox, the game was all about pitching around Paul Konerko and perhaps A.J. Pierzynski in key situations. Once the weather warmed up, you might want to throw Alexei Ramirez in the group. Any way you look at it the White Sox lineup didn’t scare anybody.
But the White Sox have won 10-of-11 games going into their May 29 game at Tampa Bay and they are just half a game behind the Indians. The Detroit Tigers were supposed to run away with the division based on the presence of defending MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander and sluggers Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. Baseball gods often laugh at prohibitive favorites. The Tigers are not even a .500 team.
Robin Ventura saw his team play its most impressive game of the season in their 2-1 victory over the Rays on Memorial Day as Chris Sale struck out 15. Beating the Rays in their own ballpark by playing solid fundamental baseball and getting a clutch home run from resurgent Adam Dunn may mean more than bashing the ball with authority against the Twins and Indians. The Sox had scored nine runs or more in four straight games prior to running into hard-throwing Matt Moore of the Rays.
But even with that impressive win and the explosive hitting that has gotten the Sox on their impressive run, it’s difficult to say the Sox are in it for the long run just yet. There is much work to be done and the pitching staff must show that it is worthy of contender status.
This was the area that most Sox fans had confidence in to start the year. When Jake Peavy got off to a good start and Philip Humber threw a perfect game in Seattle, it looked like much of the starting pitching promise would be fulfilled. But as the season heads towards it middle third, there are serious questions about the starters.
Peavy has been fairly solid with a 6-1 record, a 3.07 earned run average while allowing only 12 walks in 70.1 innings this season. But he has been hit hard in two of his last three starts. He gave up six earned runs to the Tigers and seven earned runs against the Indians. In between those starts was an impressive three-hit performance against the Cubs, but it’s hard to take a win against the North Siders with their lack of hitting very seriously.
Sale has been very impressive even if pitching coach Don Cooper may have the yips every time he takes the mound. This hard throwing left-hander has not allowed more than five hits in any of his last three starts and has exceeded all expectations. Left-handed hitters find it almost impossible to get comfortable against him. He has not given up a home run to a lefty and they are hitting .193 against him.
Once you get past those two, there are serious questions. Gavin Floyd, John Danks and Humber have struggled to find their form. Floyd has given up 10 hits in two of his last three starts and has struggled with his command. Danks sore shoulder has placed him on the disabled list and Humber has struggled in 4-of-6 outings since his April 21 perfect game.
It’s hard to classify a team as a solid contender when there are significant issues with the starting pitching. The Sox are on a hot run now and may continue to find ways to win as long as they continue to mash the baseball. But until the starting pitching gains some consistency, they are still just another team trying hard to prove itself.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.