Don’t look now, but the White Sox are actually back to .500 at 17-17 following their first three-game sweep in Oakland since 1997. To the surprise of many, the Sox were able to get themselves back to break-even by winning five straight ROAD games after starting the year 2-12 away from home.
Now the Sox come back home for seven games against Cleveland and Minnesota, two very beatable teams. The Sox have been one of the better teams in the league at home this year posting a 10-5 record and winning every series. Could this be when the Sox round into the form that many expected from them this year, or is this winning streak a product of playing two pretty bad teams?
The good news is that the Sox have been playing well for their last 12 games, which has encompassed four series. They have won each of those series, including the sweep of Oakland over the weekend. This includes a series win against the Tigers, as well as two National League teams in Cincinnati and Milwaukee.
One of the biggest reasons for the winning streak has been an improved and more consistent offense. Over this 12 game stretch the Sox are slashing .286/.346/.417 and averaging 5.2 runs per game. In their previous 22 games the Sox were slashing .242/.296/.341 and averaging 3.2 runs per game, so the improvement over the last two weeks is pretty significant across the board.
The Sox have also showed some more patience at the plate and that has paid off with an increase in walks and a decrease in strikeouts. Over the last 12 games Sox batters are averaging 3.2 walks per game and 5.7 strikeouts for a 1.79 K/BB ratio. In their first 22 games, they were drawing only 2.2 walks per game and striking out 7.7 times for a 3.54 K/BB ratio.
The pitching has been about the same during the recent winning streak as it was early in the year. The team ERA is down slightly, from 4.56 to 4.12 while the WHIP is slightly higher over the last 12 games (1.42 to 1.39). Sox pitchers are striking out more batters per game over the last 12 contests (8.8 compared to 7.4) but they are also walking more batters (4.2 versus 2.5). The home run averages are a wash as well. One of the noticeable differences is in inherited runners scored. Over the first 22 games, Sox relievers were allowing 42% of their inherited runners to come around and score. Over the last 12 games, that number is down to 27 percent.
The Sox should be able to pitch better than they have through the first part of the season. Sox starters have a surprisingly high 4.86 ERA and a 1.400 WHIP. Opponents are hitting .271 against them and slugging at a .444 clip. When you look at the stats and see that Chris Sale has the highest ERA among the current starters at 5.09, you can figure that probably isn’t going to continue.
The fielding has been a little better too as of late. Over the same 12 game stretch we have been looking at, the Sox have committed 9 errors, or 0.75 errors per game. However, three of those errors came in the first game of the stretch, so over the last 11 games the Sox have only 6 errors (0.55 per game). In seven of those 12 games the Sox did not commit an error and in eight of the nine wins, the Sox committed one error or fewer.
So what is the real takeaway? Well obviously the Sox have been playing better the last 12 games, but just looking at the record tells you that. The hitting has been much better, and that was bound to happen as the Sox have way too many good veteran hitters to be the worst hitting team in the league. The pitching has been about the same, so really the bats coming to life have accounted for most of the difference.
What will really be interesting is how the Sox perform on this homestand. The Sox have been excellent at home this year and the Indians and Twins are both very beatable teams, despite the fact that the Twins have been hot recently. Both teams rank in the lower half of the league in ERA, so the Sox bats should be able to stay hot.
If the Sox can come out and win five out of seven at home and push themselves a few games over .500 on this homestand, then we might really start to feel good about this team having turned the corner. If they revert back into a slump like they have been prone to do once they get close to .500, then I think we might really need to be concerned. Either way, Memorial Day is the first major milestone of the season and that falls right after this homestand wraps up, so that is a good time to take stock of where this team is at. Hopefully they are on the plus side of .500 when we re-evaluate them in a week.