Preseason expectations were high for the Chicago White Sox, who were projected to be one of the top teams in the American League.
Instead, the Sox has been hovering around .500 for most of the season. That’s where they stand – 46-46 – on the All-Star break, good for third place in the AL Central.
Shortstop Tim Anderson described the first half as a “challenge”.
“But it’s also part of the process of learning and growing,” Anderson said Monday during All-Star Media Day at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. “Now that the first half is over, we can go back to the drawing board and understand what we did wrong and now we can continue to do better for the second half.
“Go out and compete and have fun.”
This approach was on display when the Sox won five of their last six, making a break in the middle against two teams ahead of them: the second-placed Cleveland Guardians and the division-leading Minnesota Twins.
The Sox returned to action on Friday with the first of four games in three days against the Guardians at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“I think we can tap back into what we’ve been able to do,” Anderson said. “If everyone can max out and everyone can go out and be the best. If everyone does their best, I think we’ll be in a good place.”
The Sox face three questions as the season resumes.
1. Will they get more success in the guaranteed rate field?
The Houston Astros entered the AL on Thursday as the only team to have more road wins (31) than the Sox, who are 27-21 away from home.
Oddly, the Sox have not repeated that success in the guaranteed rate field, where they are 19-25.
“The record speaks for itself,” Sox manager Tony La Russa said during the team’s last homestand on July 8. “So you identify the problem and you attack it. We’ve noticed for a while, especially compared to last year. It’s a brand new year.
“People love to play here, the fans are very vocal and supportive. So it’s not really an easy answer. You must have goals. The goal is to start winning the series at home.”
The Sox have dropped .239/.300/.362 in their 44 home games and .272/.321/.404 in their 48 road games. He has scored 222 runs on the road and 184 at home.
But it’s not just aggressive yoga. The Sox have a 3.57 ERA on the road and 4.35 ERA at home. They have allowed 59 homers in the guaranteed rate field and 41 away from home.
The Sox had their AL best home record last season (53–28) en route to winning Central. If they are going to win the division again they have to change it. The Sox will have plenty of chances immediately after the break, with 10 of their next 12 games at a guaranteed rate.
2. What will the socks look like at close to full strength?
Injuries have been a major deterrent all season, dating back to spring training when reliever Garrett Crockett underwent Tommy John surgery at the end of the season.
Heading to the break, the Sox were without catcher Yasmani Grendel, who was on a rehab assignment while working to come back from a lower back spasm. Reliever Aaron Bummer has been on the injured list since June 9 with a left lat strain. He will give the team some much-needed left-arm depth in the bullpen.
The Sox did not put Aloy Jimenez on the IL after the left fielder pulled out of a July 13 game against the Guardians with a tightness in his right leg. He missed the last four games before the break. The Sox spent most of the Twins’ series without center fielder Louis Robert. He went unconscious after the first innings on 15 July.
Robert boosted the power with a Grand Slam in a 12-2 win against the Twins the night before. The Sox ranks 24th among the majors with 80 homers, and having Grendel and Jimenez for an extended period of time will help in that department.
How the Sox uses Jimenez, how often he is in left field and how often he is a designated hitter, will be worth monitoring.
“The last time it (injury) happened, he was driving the base,” La Russa said on July 14. Jimenez was out from April 24 to July 6 after suffering a torn hamstring tendon at the back of his right knee while running at first base. He left the match on 13 July after scoring one run.
“He’s got to use his legs,” La Russa said. “Especially when we get (Grendel) back, you look at the structure of our roster, it’s pretty tough to lock down the DH spot.”
The Sox will also continue to monitor Michael Kopech’s innings, as he has said since spring training. The right-handed batsman has 3.36 ERA in 17 starts. He has played 83 innings, transitioning back into the rotation after spending most of the time as a reliever last season. He scored 69⅓ in 44 matches (four starts) last season.
“We are looking at that and that is one of the measures,” La Russa said on 13 July. “You’re looking at him and you’re also looking at how he feels, how his knee feels (after first stepping out on July 12 at The Start), what his stuff looks like.”
Kopech liked “stuff” in his most recent outing, winning against the Twins on July 15.
“I don’t usually like to see radar guns, but I’ve been seeing it lately to see if it’s back,” Kopech said after the start. “It felt like it was back (July 15). The harder I threw, the more my slider ticked. Nice with the stuff I had.”
3. Will the Sox capture the twins and the Guardians?
Even with an extended playoff format, winning the division appears to be the best route likely for the Sox to return to the postseason for the third year in a row.
They are one game behind the parents and three behind the twins. The Sox entered the final three-and-a-half games behind the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday for three wild-card spots. The Sox are tied with the surprising Baltimore Orioles and are behind the Boston Red Sox and Guardians.
The Sox have lost records against the Guardians (3-6) and the Twins (4-6), but time will tell whether last week serves as a turning point. After dropping the first two in a series in Cleveland, the Sox won the final two behind strong pitching from Dylan Cease and Lucas Giolito. The Sox then went to target field and went 32-10 against the Twins to win three out of four.
“Too big to end this way,” Anderson said of the Twins series.
The Sox have 10 games left against the Guardians: four Friday–Sunday, three August 19–21 in Cleveland and three September 20–22 at Guaranteed Rate Field.
Down the Sox vibe see a lot of twins. They meet for three games from 2–4 September at Guaranteed Rate Field and play six of the last nine games of the season: 27–29 September at Target Field and 3–5 October at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“Everyone has seen that we haven’t lived up to our potential, and that’s something we know very well in that clubhouse,” All-Star close Liam Hendrix said in Los Angeles on Monday. “It’s also something, we control our own destiny. We haven’t played our best baseball, especially against Central (18-19), and it’s something that we really need to pick up on in the second half.
“But something we showed… being able to win the last two against Cleveland and take three out of four in Minnesota, we can take in the break and now come back completely rested and ready to go. Huh.”