White Sox's 81-game review

July, 4, 2012
7/04/12
11:44
PM CT
Powers By Scott Powers
ESPNChicago.com
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A.J. Pierzynski, Mike NapoliAP Photo/Brian KerseyA.J. Pierzynski has been instrumental in helping the White Sox to first place in the AL Central at the season's half-way point.

CHICAGO -- With 81 games down and 81 games to go for the Chicago White Sox, here are 10 things we’ve learned about them and 10 more things we’ll discover about them in the coming months:

10 things we’ve learned in the first 81 games

1. The White Sox have the pieces to truly compete for the American League Central title. They’ve been in first place 37 days this season and currently lead the Central by two games over the Cleveland Indians. The White Sox are 44-37 through 81 games.

2. Starting pitcher Chris Sale has one of the best young arms in baseball. In his first season as a starter, Sale is 10-2 with a 2.19 ERA. He’s become more a pitcher than a thrower this season and has learned how to get batters out with his skill and his smarts. He’ll make his first All-Star Game appearance next week.

3. The White Sox possess a formidable lineup. They have four players ranked in the top 22 in average in the American League. No other team has three. They have five players with 10-plus home runs. They have eight players with 30-plus RBIs. Kevin Youkilis’ addition has provided an early spark, as well, and has rounded out the lineup.

4. Slugger Adam Dunn has returned to his All-Star form. He still strikes out a lot -- he always has -- but he’s now back to hitting home runs, too. He had 11 home runs, 42 RBIs and 177 strikeouts last season. He has 25 home runs, 60 RBIs and 127 strikeouts this season. He’s also headed to the All-Star Game.

[+] EnlargeJake Peavy
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJake Peavy is looking like the Cy Young candidate the White Sox thought they traded for in 2009.

5. Dunn isn’t the only White Sox player up for AL Comeback Player of the Year. Jake Peavy is right there with him. Peavy’s been a medical mess since arriving in Chicago in 2009. He’s finally gotten healthy this season and is back to being one of the game’s top pitchers. He’s 6-5 with a 2.96 ERA. He hasn’t received much support from his offense this season. He could also be an All-Star.

6. Rookie starting pitcher Jose Quintana is one of the season’s biggest surprises. He was called up from Double-A to replace injured starter John Danks, and he’s since secured a spot in the rotation. He’s 3-1 with a 2.19 ERA. He’s had one bad start in seven starts.

7. Alex Rios has also rebounded nicely from an awful 2011 season. Last season, he hit .227 with 13 home runs and 44 RBIs. After Wednesday’s game, he was hitting .317 with 11 home runs and 45 RBIs. Dunn-Paul Konerko-Rios has made for a nice 3-4-5 lineup.

8. Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski seem to only get better with age. The 36-year-old Konerko has led the American League in hitting for much of the season and is currently second with a .333 average. He also has 14 home runs and 42 RBIs. The 35-year-old Pierzynski is hitting .287 with 15 home runs and 48 RBIs and continues to be reliable behind the plate. He’s caught 1,500 career games, which ranks first among active players.

9. The White Sox are an above-average defensive team. Alexei Ramirez is one of the more exciting shortstops in baseball. Youkilis has made some impressive plays at third base. Gordon Beckham takes care of business at second base. Dayan Viciedo, Alejandro De Aza and Rios are all solid in the outfield. Konerko and Pierzynksi are always reliable.

10. The White Sox have been a better road team than home team thus far. They’re 21-21 at home and 23-16 on the road. They’re also 11-11 in one-run games and 3-5 in extra-inning games.

10 questions for the second half

1. Can the White Sox hold off the Indians and Detroit Tigers to win the American League Central? The Tigers were considered the favorites to start the season, but they haven’t put it together yet. They ran away with the division last season after a slow start, but they began their push in June. The Tigers are still under .500. The Indians have been right with the White Sox all season, but they’ve scored 27 fewer runs than they’ve allowed. The last team to win a division with a negative run differential was the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2007.

2. Can the White Sox’s rotation get healthy and then get consistent? Their rotation has been up and down most of the season. Philip Humber has been great (he threw a perfect game), but he’s also struggled (he has a 6.01 ERA). He’s currently on the disabled list. Gavin Floyd has been a pitching roller coaster. John Danks, who was expected to be the staff’s ace, was shaky early, improved and is now injured. He hasn’t pitched since May 19. Chris Sale, Jake Peavy and Jose Quintana provide the White Sox with three reliable pitchers, but Danks could put them over the top. Whatever they can get from Humber or a fifth starter would be an added bonus.

[+] EnlargeJohn Danks
Mike DiNovo/US PresswireJohn Danks' health issues hamstrung him in the first half. His return could push the White Sox over the top in the division.

3. Will the team’s young players sustain their success over the entire season? The White Sox are a young team. They currently have 10 rookies on their 25-man roster. Eight of those players are pitchers, and six of them are relievers. Not all of them will stay up in the majors, but a majority of them will. A full major league season and a potential pennant race will be new to them.

4. Can the White Sox survive a grueling July on the road? The White Sox will open a 10-game road trip when the second half begins on July 13. They will play a total of 16 road games between July 13-Aug. 1.

-5. Can Addison Reed be a reliable closer in big games? Reed has been dominant and shaky at times in his first season as a closer. He’s certainly up for the big games and has the mental makeup for the role. He just hasn’t always come through in them yet. He has 11 saves and a 4.03 ERA.

6. Will Dunn break the major league record for strikeouts in a season? All indications point to him doing so. Mark Reynolds holds the record with 223 strikeouts in 2009. Dunn currently has 126 strikeouts and is projected to finish with 252 strikeouts. He does have a shot to lead the majors in walks, home runs and strikeouts. He’s currently first in walks and strikeouts and third in home runs.

7. Will Konerko win the American League batting title? The last White Sox’s player to lead the league in hitting was Frank Thomas, who hit .347 in 1997. The only other player to do so was Luke Appling. He did it in 1936 and 1943.

8. Are the White Sox done making moves? General manager Ken Williams added Orlando Hudson, and when that didn’t work out, he went out and got Kevin Youkilis. This isn’t a perfect team, and Williams might still look to add another reliever.

9. How will White Sox manager Robin Ventura hold up during a pennant chase? Ventura has been impressive in his first season managing. He’s been calm and level throughout the season. That likely won’t change come September, but all of his decisions will be put under a microscope with a pennant on the line.

10. Could the season come down to the final week and a half? The White Sox play six of their final 10 games against the Indians. The first three are in Chicago and the final three are in Cleveland. Their final series against the Tigers is in Chicago from Sept. 10-13.

Scott Powers is a general reporter for ESPNChicago.com. He is an award-winning journalist and has been reporting on preps, colleges and pros for publications throughout the Midwest since 1997.

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Jose Abreu
BA HR RBI R
.292 30 77 54
OTHER LEADERS
HRJ. Abreu 30
RBIJ. Abreu 77
RJ. Abreu 54
OPSJ. Abreu .962
WJ. Danks 9
ERAJ. Quintana 3.15
SOJ. Quintana 118