As I’m watching the White Sox play the Blue Jays, a few things come to mind. My first thought is in regards to the Blue Jays, and how quickly they went from a perennial .500 team to a contender after a couple of blockbuster trades. That made me think about the White Sox, and their shiny record of 13-6. They seem a bit more intimidating now than they did a year ago, when they played to a tune of 76-86. Now I’m here, and I’m thinking about how long this streak of success can last.
The rotation is performing well, the bullpen is lights out, and the offense is desperate for runs. The Sox struggled in all 3 of these categories a year ago, but what has really changed? The team acquired a couple of “change of scenery” players in Todd Frazier (3B) and Brett Lawrie (2B) via trade, as well as signing Mat Latos ($3 million), Austin Jackson ($5 million) and Jimmy Rollins ($2 million) to one-year, low-risk/high-reward deals. In addition, Dioner Navarro was brought in to platoon with Alex Avila at catcher. Frazier is the biggest name in this crop of “meh” acquisitions, but this team has still found a way to outperform the majority of the league.
With Avila hurt, and none of Navarro, Jackson, Rollins, Frazier, or Jose Abreu hitting much yet, it’s hard to identify the driving force behind this team’s overnight transformation. What’s really interesting to me is that it appears the team’s plan from the previous offseason is finally coming to fruition. What I mean is that the bullpen, which was rebuilt last offseason, has been absolutely dominant.
The club has a team ERA of 2.28, the lowest in the Majors by almost one whole run. The aforementioned relief crops is much to thank for this, as they are holding teams to a microscopic 1.51 runs per game. Zach Duke, David Robertson, Dan Jennings, and Matt Albers, all of whom were acquired during the 2014-2015 offseason, are performing at an elite level, with Duke carrying the highest ERA out of the four at 2.57, and Albers the lowest at 0.00.
To maintain this level of success, the Sox are going to have to start hitting the ball. Out of 30 MLB teams, the White Sox rank 28th in Runs (61) and 27th in Batting Average (.227). Of the offseason additions, only Brett Lawrie is hitting consistently, with a batting average currently at .282. Frazier has provided a bit of pop, with 5 homers on the year, but he is batting only .224 so far. Rollins could be an offensive asset at short, though he’s become more of a slow-starter as his career begins to taper off, and is considered more of a place-holder for prospect Tim Anderson than he is a staple of the lineup.
Due to the fact that they’re power-hitting position players, the offseason trades for Brett Lawrie and Todd Frazier made the most noise, but I believe it’s Mat Latos that has made the biggest difference for the team. Nobody expected Mat Latos to show up this year the way he has. Don’t expect his production to stay at such an extremely high level, but Latos is undefeated on the season (4-0), with an ERA under 1.00 (currently sitting at .74).This is all the more impressive when you look at the fact that he’s getting paid like a cheap relief pitcher.
Something comes to mind that really has no logical answer, but is still worth mentioning: the anti-chemistry that is the White Sox clubhouse. Players always seem to rave about how they were treated by the team, and nothing comes to mind when I think of the phrases “White Sox” and “bad clubhouse chemistry”. This is despite the fact that the team employed A.J. Pierzynski, the longstanding most hated player in baseball, behind the backstop for nearly a decade.
The team managed to win the World Series in 2005 with Pierzynski as their catcher, and in fact both Mat Latos and Brett Lawrie have poor reputations among players and coaches. Not only this, but of the team’s newcomers, they’re the two biggest contributors. This has caused me to get a little superstitious, and wonder if the Sox have some secret way to silence poor attitudes, and turn them into on-field production. Not really though, but it would be cool.
The season is young, the team has potential, and guys like Melky Cabrera and Adam Eaton are hitting very well. Once Abreu heats up and Frazier’s average balances out, this team could be genuinely scary. The pitchers can’t do it alone, though Chris Sale and Jose Quintana now have a reliable comrade in the rotation (Latos), so the offense will have to pick up. All in all, the Sox could prove to be much more than an early-season hot streak in 2016. If everything goes to plan in Chicago, you just might hear Hawk’s voice this October.