It's Time to Believe in the Chicago White Sox
Entering the 2016 season, many experts saw the American League Central as perhaps the toughest division in all of baseball. The division boasted the reigning World Series champion Kansas City Royals and a Detroit Tigers team that added studs such as Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Upton. Along with that, the Cleveland Indians had a plethora of pitching depth and the Minnesota Twins were the up-and-coming team with prospects Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano ready to burst on the scene.
The only team that really did not have a ton of hype coming into the year was the Chicago White Sox. The team did make a splash by trading for veteran third baseman Todd Frazier but otherwise remained similar to the team that finished 2015 at 76-86 and in fourth place last year.
Roughly one-fourth of the way through the season, it now appears that it’s those same White Sox that are the class of the division.
Much of that success can be attributed to a pitching staff that has lowered their starters' ERA from 3.98 in 2015 to 3.19 this season, good for fourth in baseball. It's worth noting, though, that their 4.17 SIERA ranks 15th among starters this season and is worse than their 3.83 from last season, which ranked 10th.
The headliner of White Sox staff is Cy Young hopeful Chris Sale, who won again last night to go 9-0 on the season with a dominant complete game against the Astros. As the team pointed out, Sale joined some elite company after that start last night.
The last White Sox pitcher with three or more complete games in his first nine starts of a season was Jack McDowell in 1991. #SoxStats
— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) May 20, 2016
Unstoppable! Chris Sale becomes 1st pitcher since 2008, and 4th since 1950, to win his 1st 9 starts of the season. pic.twitter.com/oMeKlXU6Rg
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 20, 2016
Along with Sale, Jose Quintana has enjoyed a breakout season, posting a 1.54 ERA and minuscule 0.99 WHIP. The one statistic that is a bit worrisome for Quintana is his 84.3% strand rate, which is likely to come closer to the mean and could boost his ERA as the season wears on, but his 3.57 SIERA ranks 30th among qualified starters this season.
On the other side of the ball, the White Sox rank near the bottom in home runs hit, stolen bases, and OPS, but do make up for it by only striking out 7.68 times per game. The arrival of Frazier has been huge as he sits with 12 home runs on the year and paces the team with 32 RBI.
Veteran leadoff hitter Adam Eaton has also excelled with a .310 batting average, .402 on base percentage, and .845 on base plus slugging percentage.
Overall, the White Sox sit 16th in wRC+ (97). By contrast, the Tigers (104) and Indians (101) rank 9th and 10th, respectively, but the Royals (89) and Twins (82) rank 24th and 26th, respectively.
The Royals have been hurt by the loss of ace Johnny Cueto and have a meager 7-13 road record, the Twins are currently tied for the worst record in baseball, and the Indians have hovered around the .500 mark much of the season.
The team has not found any type of consistency this year. In the past three weeks, they have had a five-game win streak followed by a seven-game losing streak, a win preceding yet another four-game losing streak, and now currently a four-game winning streak.
What all of this adds up to is a White Sox squad that looks to be the best-rounded team in a floundering division that may be theirs for the taking.
Our algorithm gives them a 58.6% chance to reach the playoffs, the sixth-best odds in the Majors. Their 40.3% chance to win the division is also the sixth-best shot in the big leagues.
While many predicted a National League title for the north siders of Chicago, it could be the south siders who are in fact the toast of the town come late October. Chicago sports fans can always dream!