The unofficial second half starts Friday for the White Sox so let’s take a look back and what went right for the Sox, pre-All Star break.
The Sox finished the first half with a 45-51 mark, certainly nothing to give out awards for but the Sox have hovered around .500 for the better part of the season despite a variety of injuries to key players. Last year the Sox didn’t pick up their 45th win until their 117th game of the year on August 12th when they were 45-72, so that’s certainly an improvement.
What makes this even more impressive is how the Sox have battled through the aforementioned injuries. Chris Sale missed a month, Jose Abreu was out for two weeks, Avi Garcia has been out almost the entire season and Adam Eaton has battled through several bouts of various injuries. Not to mention the fact that the Sox top two relievers coming into the season, Nate Jones and Matt Lindstrom have also been gone most of the year. All things considered the Sox have managed to hang in there better than many expected.
So that is where the team is at, let’s take a look at some individual performers. We start off with the most obvious one, Jose Abreu. Coming into the year Sox fans knew two things about Abreu; the Sox invested a lot of money in him and he has big time power. Through the first half of his rookie season Abreu has shown his power, leading the league in homers despite a stint on the 15-day disabled list and the money the Sox invested looks like a steal.
Abreu has more homers through his first 82 games than any other player in Major League history. He currently leads the AL in slugging percentage and has an OPS+ of 164. Of his 94 hits, 50 have been for extra bases (53%). After some early season growing pains Abreu has hit .329/.377/.671 since the start of June with 14 homers and 31 RBI in 38 games.
Abreu brings a something to the Sox lineup that they have missed the last few years, a legit power bat that opposing managers and pitchers need to account for. He changes the complexity of the lineup and has at times carried the team offensively. In him the Sox have found the successor to Paul Konerko at first base and as the offensive face of the franchise.
Another newcomer that has made a difference for the Sox is Adam Eaton. The Sox got Eaton as part of a three team deal when they sent Hector Santiago to Anaheim. So far this looks like the Sox won the trade big time as Santiago has struggled in LA while Eaton has taken over as the Sox lead-off hitter.
The batting stats aren’t overwhelming with a .270/.340/.372 triple slash and Eaton hasn’t found his rhythm stealing bases with just eight swipes in 14 attempts but it is hard to argue that he hasn’t helped spark the Sox offensive turnaround from last year. Eaton brings an energy to the club that can’t be quantified in numbers (TWTW anyone?) and he has played very well in centerfield, with several highlight catches to his credit already.
If nothing else Eaton has proven that he should be a capable option at the top of the Sox batting order for the future and can solidify the Sox outfield defense that has struggled in recent years.
While the Sox other trade this off-season brought in Matt Davidson to be the Sox next third baseman of the future, the Sox might have found something with their current third sacker, Conor Gillaspie. As a rookie last year Gillaspie was a bit of a pleasant surprise for the Sox with 13 homers and 40 RBI in 134 games. He got off to a nice start average-wise but trailed off as the season wore on. This year Gillaspie has done nothing but hit. He is currently batting .326 with a .484 slugging percentage despite only hitting four home runs, three of which came in the last week before the All-Star break. Gillaspie does have 23 doubles though and his OPS+ of 138 second on the team to only Jose Abreu.
Gillaspie also puts the ball in play. His 41 strikeouts are by far the fewest of any White Sox regular. While he may not be the best defensively at third base, he makes most of the routine plays and certainly wouldn’t be considered a liability. Davidson might be a prospect with big time power, but if Gillaspie continues to swing the bat like this, the Sox will have to find somewhere to play him.
Let’s switch gears now and look at the pitching staff. Obviously Chris Sale has been lights out for the Sox when he’s been on the mound. The DL stint is a little concerning but he has bounced back to his usual, dominant self. There isn’t too much to say that everyone doesn’t already know about how good he has been. He’s got a 2.08 ERA with a 0.842 WHIP and he is striking out 9.7 batters per nine innings with a 6.38 K/BB ratio. Outside of Felix Hernandez there might not be a better pitching in the American League than Chris Sale.
One pleasant surprise has been the pitching of Sox veteran lefty John Danks. While the velocity still has not and may never return to where it was before the surgery, Danks has still managed to battle out on the mound and has a respectable 8-6 record with a 3.99 ERA.
The walks are still a little high but the strikeout totals, despite the velocity drop are pretty close to where he’s been throughout his career. Danks has also managed to keep the ball in the park better than he did last year and his current 1.1 HR/9 is right at his career rate.
What he has been able to do is stabilize the Sox rotation after Sale and Quintana and given the Sox innings, leading the team with 119.2 innings pitched. He has also pitched well enough that his name has come up in some trade rumors. The market for starting pitching is thin and Danks may actually be able to be moved, despite two years and $28.5 million left on his deal after this year.
The one final player to touch on is reliever Jake Petricka. Despite starting the season at AAA Charlotte, Petricka has come up and become one of the Sox most effective relief pitchers and may be next up to try his hand at the closer’s spot. Petricka leads Sox relievers with 49.2 innings pitched and a 2.17 ERA. The big knock against Jake, as it is with seemingly every Sox reliever, are the walks. Petricka is walking 4.5 batters per nine innings. That number has to come down if he is going to be a mainstay at the back of the Sox pen in the future.
The final positive for the Sox in this first half has been their resiliency. Despite the injuries, the bullpen and rotation issues, the Sox have not gone into the tank. There were a few times that it looked like they might but they have always been able to bounce back and run off a couple wins to get back on track. The attitude on the team has changed and that is something that can really help the team build an identity as the move towards hopefully becoming contenders in the next season or two.
Now let’s get ready to start the second half. At this point last year the Sox were already unwatchable and the only intrigue left was who would be traded and for what. This year the Sox are much more fun to watch and hopefully they remain that way for the final two and a half months of the season.