By Matt Spiegel-
(CBS) The White Sox are fighting for your interest. They’re a first place team that can’t seem to draw consistent crowds, and with the onslaught of coverage for the NFL behemoth, the Sox will struggle to draw airtime and newsprint inches.
Some of that is because they’re also fighting for your belief in their chances.
Of late, they’ve not exactly engendered confidence. The young pitching has tired, and first base is being granted at a ridiculous rate. The Sox pitching staff leads the AL in walks this month, and is second in the league since the All-Star break.
If it feels like the free passes are killing this team, it’s because they are. The team ERA is second worst in the AL over the last two weeks, and ninth overall since the break.
The organizational plan of extending the days between starts for Chris Sale, Jake Peavy, and Jose Quintana (and then letting them pitch deeper into games than you’d often expect) was an enormous success, for a while. Now there aren’t enough days on the calendar to re-charge those arms.
There’s not time to give Sale a seven-day break, or Quintana an eight-day respite. There aren’t enough quality arms to extend to the seven or eight man rotation that might come in handy.
This is when the fruits of that season-long plan should be ripening perfectly. But like seemingly every plan to preserve and strengthen the modern pitching arm, this one is imperfect.
Meanwhile in Detroit, some of the starting pitchers not named Justin Verlander have begun to show up. Since the break, the Tigers are third in the league in ERA, and fifth in batting average against. In September, the Tigers staff has been the best in the league, with a 1.60 ERA in these five games.
So, “it” has returned. “It” is that sense of dread some Sox fans have cultivated for years, and have assumed would rise this year. “It” is palpable.
Right now, the division is still the White Sox to keep. The Tigers have said no to every divisional lead opportunity so generously provided. And even if they come in to town next week for that big four gamer and take, say, 3-of-4, can you really have confidence that they’ll finish strong?
Detroit has shown they can lose to the Royals as well as the White Sox can. Kansas City swept them in late August, and will get seven more chances to play spoiler.
Of course, KC could damage the White Sox this weekend first. Yes, it’s Cy Chen and Catfish Guthrie, back onto your televisions and into Sox hitters’ heads.
The Sox are just 27-26 against the Central division, while the Tigers are 30-22. The next seven games vs. KC and Detroit will go a long way towards defining the month and perhaps the season.
This team’s resiliency is to be admired. They’ve overcome bad losing streaks, rebounding to play passionate, confident, effective baseball with the ledge in sight.
That precipice has never been more in focus. We might know in a week if they’ve toppled off of it.
Matt Spiegel co-hosts The McNeil and Spiegel Show, heard on 670 The Score Monday-Friday from 9am-1pm. Follow him on Twitter @MattSpiegel670.