Series Preview: Chicago (September 24-26)

In a bizarre piece of scheduling, the Indians and White Sox have gone almost four months since playing each other. The AL Central rivals played 12 times in the first months of the season, and haven't played since. When the Indians last played the White Sox, both clubs were contending for first place in the AL Central, with the Indians leaving Chicago on May 27th a half-game behind the White Sox. Things have certainly changed for the Indians since then, but Chicago has pretty much stayed on track.

With 10 games to go in the 2012 season for the two AL Central contenders, the Indians will play a large part in determining who wins the AL Central. The second place club has long been eliminated from Wild Card contention, so the only way either team is making the playoffs is if they win the division. Here's the remaining schedule for both Chicago and Detroit:

Chicago (81-71): 3 CLE (63-90), 4 TB (83-70), 3 @ CLE (63-90)

Detroit (80-72): 4 KC (70-82), 3 @ MIN (64-89), 3 @ KC (70-82)

Chicago gets four games against the Rays, who are barely in Wild Card contention, while Detroit faces two clubs who have long been out of the race. Neither team is heading down the stretch on a roll; Chicago has lost five in a row, while Detroit just got swept in a doubleheader by the Twins.

Team in a Box (click to enlarge)

Chicago_september_24-26_medium

The White Sox aren't exceptional in any area, other than perhaps defense, but at the same time they aren't horrible in an area either. Defense may in fact end up being the difference in who wins the division, with the Tigers still languishing in last place in most defensive categories.

Typical Lineup

Pos. Player BA OBP SLG OPS+ PA
CF Alejandro De Aza .281 .345 .413 103 563
3B Kevin Youkilis .227 .350 .439 110 306
DH Adam Dunn .207 .337 .476 115 606
1B Paul Konerko .302 .372 .491 130 556
RF Alex Rios .301 .333 .518 124 604
C A.J. Pierzynski .279 .324 .504 118 489
LF Dayan Viciedo .251 .293 .424 90 505
SS Alexei Ramirez .270 .292 .374 77 583
2B Gordon Beckham .239 .300 .384 82 552

This is largely the same lineup the Indians saw the last time they played Chicago, with one major exception. Back in May, the White Sox were struggling to get production from their third baseman, playing Brent Morel there, then Orlando Hudson. Then they acquired Kevin Youkilis in late June, and although Youkilis has cooled off of late, he's been a massive improvement over the dreck they had there.

Chicago is getting very nice seasons from players that should be slowing down. A.J. Pierzynski is having one of his best seasons at age 35, while Paul Konerko only seems to get better with age. The key with both players is not just production, but health; Konerko will likely end the 2012 season with 144 games played, while Pierzynski is going to end the season with over 130 games played, both amazing totals for players in their mid-30s.

Adam Dunn, meanwhile, is having a comeback season. The majors' top Three True Outcomes guy, Dunn has 39 homers, 99 walks, and 205 strikeouts, which accounts for more than half of his plate appearances this season.

Projected Starters

Date Pitcher ERA Innings SO/9 BB/9 H/9
Sep 24 Chris Sale (L) 2.82 181.2 9.0 2.3 7.4
Sep 25 Francisco Liriano (L) 5.09 53.0 9.2 5.1 8.0
Sep 26 Jake Peavy 3.40 203.2 8.0 2.1 8.1

Chris Sale has been one of the best pitchers in the AL this season, and should finish high in the Cy Young voting. He didn't start a game last season, but he'll finish the season with 29 starts and close to 200 innings, and he isn't showing any signs of tiring.

Chicago acquired Francisco Liriano from the Twins at the July deadline, and if they thought they'd catch lightning in a bottle, that hasn't happened, though he's done enough as a fifth starter to justify the acquisition.

Jake Peavy has finally regained the form he showed in San Diego after 2.5 injury-plagued seasons with Chicago. He, Sale, and Jose Quintana (who the Indians won't see this series) have carried the rotation, and if the White Sox do make the playoffs, that trio will match up well against just about any AL club.

On the Shelf

  • RHP Brian Bruney (hip) - out for season
  • LHP John Danks (shoulder) - out for season

That's it, which is one major reason why the White Sox are in a good position to win the AL Central right now. They've lost amazingly little time from their position players. Losing Danks was a big blow, but thanks to the emergence of both Sale and Quintana, they've been able to deal with it.

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