COMMENTARY | The Chicago White Sox, after getting off to a 14-20, last place start, are now at even 24-24 and sitting in third place in the American League Central division. That is 10 out of their last 14 games, including a series sweep of the Miami Marlins on the heels of a winning series against the Boston Red Sox. With a schedule that stays weak as the Chicago Cubs come up for four games before a trip to Oakland and Seattle, there is much cause for optimism for the White Sox.
The rotation, as expected, has performed extremely well. While the staff as a whole is second in the AL with a 3.57 ERA, the starters have combined for a 3.43 ERA, which puts them firmly in first place in the AL. They have managed this despite missing Gavin Floyd for much of the season and only just getting John Danks back in the rotation earlier in the week.
The shining stars on the bump have been Dylan Axelrod and Hector Santiago, who have provided much needed depth for a team that has operated without roughly $20 million of starting pitchers to this point in the season. Axelrod has made the most of his opportunity, posting a 4.21 ERA through 10 starts. He is no hard thrower; his average fastball velocity this season, 87.8 miles per hour, is lower than all other right handed starters except Bronson Arroyo, Jason Marquis, and Jon Garland, some very wily veterans. Despite the lack of velocity, he has found himself what appears to be a permanent role in the rotation for the White Sox.
Santiago has bounced between the bullpen and rotation and now back to the bullpen, compiling a 2.81 ERA in the process. Manager Robin Ventura calls him his "Swiss army knife," since he has contributed in several roles as a White Sox: closer, long relief, short relief, and starter. The left-hander that often touches 96 miles per hour with his fastball will add even more depth to a great back end of the bullpen, but his future looks bright as a starter in the near future.
That back end of the bullpen has been rather exceptional so far this season, with Jesse Crain and Addison Reed being more or less automatic in the 8th and 9th innings. Crain leads the league in appearances with 25 and has a miniscule 0.78 ERA to go along with 14 holds in no blown opportunities. He is bound to get touched up eventually, but shows no signs of slowing down. Addison Reed is second in MLB with 17 saves, short of only Mariano Rivera. He has blown only one save and has a very stout 1.96 ERA without surrendering a single home run or taking a loss.
The offense, whose prolific struggles I have written about already, seems to be turning a corner. Adam Dunn had quite a hot streak before slowing down, but his 2-run homer today suggests he might be getting back into the swing of things. Paul Konerko is 7 for his last 16 and might finally be figuring things out after a very slow start. Dayan Viciedo has been hot since his return from the disabled list, slugging two doubles in Sunday's contest against Miami. Alexei Ramirez has batted .318 in the 2 spot in the batting order, which appears to be his new permanent home in the lineup.
Conor Gillaspie remains the front runner for AL Rookie of the Year. Soon, Gordon Beckham will return and that should more or less be the end of Jeff Keppinger's playing time, at least against right-handed pitching. There will also be a boost to the defense with that move, as Beckham rates as top notch at second base.
Tyler Flowers still has not found his rhythm and there are still serious concerns about Konerko and Dunn, who have teased fans with brief hot streaks before continuing to struggle. However, Josh Phegley has continued to smash the ball in triple-A Charlotte and could prove an able replacement for Flowers if need be. Moreover, it seems unlikely that both Dunn and Konerko will continue to struggle. Konerko may lose his power, but he appears to be adjusting well enough to hit safely on a consistent basis. Dunn has not lost his power at all, so he should be able to produce even if his batting average is frighteningly low.
While the team is not perfect and still seems far from competing with the vaunted Detroit Tigers, there are many reasons to be optimistic. The pitching has been incredible and shows no signs of regression, as the staff is pitching up to its talent level. Teams go far with starting pitching as good as the White Sox's. The offense still has questions to answer, but it no longer looks hopeless. Both offense and defense will soon get a boost from Gordon Beckham, as well.
As the White Sox finally hit .500 in the win-loss department, look for them to soon get above that line and stay there, for good.
Jacob Long, a native to the Chicago area, is a writer for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. He has experience covering sports and news for WMC-TV in Memphis, TN and has contributed to sports blogs such as The Flapship. Follow him on Twitter @jlongrc.
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