My pre-season pick to win the American League Central, the White Sox stumbled out of the gate with an awful April, but turned thing around from there, going 30-24 (.555) in May and June. With the Indians foundering and the Tigers failing to pull away, I thought the White Sox just might reload at the trading deadline and make me look smart down the stretch, but instead they traded arguably their third best starter, pending-free-agent Edwin Jackson, for minimal return in a three-way trade that enabled the Blue Jays to land a potential cornerstone player in Cardinals center fielder Colby Rasmus.
So much for that.
The White Sox did finally wise up and start benching Alex Rios, who had sunk below replacement level in center field, but they're only doing it against righties, and they didn't use Jackson to acquire an upgrade (such as, say . . . Rasmus!). Instead they forced Toronto to take Mark Teahen's 2012 salary off their hands, which suggests that freeing up payroll, not winning the division, was the team's primary goal. So now their primary center fielder is the lefty-swinging Alejandro De Aza, a 27-year-old journeyman who hasn't had more than 32 plate appearances in a big league season since he was a 23-year-old rookie with the Marlins, and who is the very definition of a replacement player. They'd have been better off hoping Rios came around, or going with utility man Brent Lillibridge, another right-handed batter.
Similarly, the White Sox properly benched rookie third baseman Brent Morel after a season of replacement-level play, but again, they're only sitting him against righties (he has hit .232/.259/.293 against lefties this season), and again, they've replaced him with another replacement-level body in the superannuated Omar Vizquel.
Those two moves and swapping Jackson to allow the struggling Jake Peavy and luck-dependent Philip Humber to remain in the rotation tells me that the White Sox aren't serious this season. The Tigers, meanwhile, made legitimate attempts to address their weaknesses, even if their solutions were the uninspiring Wilson Betemit and Doug Fister, and seem like a good bet to take the division and make their first-round opponents, who are very likely to be the Yankees, cower in fear of Justin Verlander getting a chance to start a Game Five.
CC Sabathia (15-5, 2.56) vs. Jake Peavy (4-4, 5.27), Monday, August 1, 8:10, YES
The White Sox, who had been employing a six-man rotation since John Danks return from the disabled list, identified pending free agent Edwin Jackson as their sixth starter prior to trading him last week, but it's Peavy who has been their least-effective starter this year. The 2007 National League Cy Young award winner returned in early May from the muscular injury that ended his 2010 season early last July and shutout the first-place Indians in his second start of this season. Since then, however, he has posted a 6.61 ERA in nine starts. Some of that has been bad luck in balls in play, but some of that seems to be that Peavy is just getting hit hard, posting a 23 percent line-drive rate over those nine starts (against a league average of 18 percent). Still, he's not giving up home runs (just four all season and none in four July starts) despite pitching in a homer-happy home ballpark, his strikeout and walk rates are solid, and he did turn in a quality start two turns ago (his first since May), so there's reason for hope.
The Yankees played the White Sox the night they traded for Peavy, but Peavy has never faced the Bombers for Chicago. He lost a 1-0 game to the Yankees and Ted Lilly in his major league debut in June 2002, but has only faced the Yankees once since then, losing to them again in 2008.
In his last seven starts, Sabathia has posted a 0.82 ERA while averaging more than 7 2/3 innings and more than ten strikeouts per game, including a career-high 14 Ks in his last start, against the Mariners. His worst start in that stretch saw him allow two runs in eight innings to the Rays and take a complete-game loss. Sabathia faced the White Sox back on April 28 and allowed three unearned runs in seven innings while striking out six.
Phil Hughes (1-3, 8.24) vs. John Danks (4-8, 3.79), Tuesday, August 2, 8:10, YES
Despite Ivan Nova's strong outing on Saturday, Phil Hughes remains in the Yankee rotation for now (UPDATE: Nova will start Thursday in what, at least for this week, will be a six-man rotation). To be fair to him, he has allowed more than two runs in just one of his four starts since his return, and two of his last three starts have been quality. He also got hitters to swing and miss nine times in his last start, a season high. So there are reasons for optimism despite the fact that Hughes has yet to really look like his old self on the mound. Still, one imagines he's on something of a short leash with some wondering if a move to the bullpen for the remainder of the year might not be the best thing for both Hughes and the team.
Danks was 0-8 with a 5.25 ERA at the end of May, but that was a bit misleading. Six of his 11 starts over that stretch were quality, but the White Sox didn't give him much run support, and a dud in Toronto in his final May start inflated his season ERA by nearly a run. Since May, the 26-year-old lefty has gone 4-0 with a 0.98 ERA, though he missed nearly a month in there with an oblique strain. The real Danks lies somewhere in the middle, of course, and his rate stats for the season average out right around his career numbers. Danks didn't face the Yankees when these two teams met back in April, and didn't fare particularly well against them in two starts last year.
A.J. Burnett (8-9, 4.23) vs. Gavin Floyd (9-9, 3.96), Wednesday, August 3, 8:10, YES/ESPN
Floyd is a model of consistency, turning in three quality starts out of every five with the overall effect of being an ever-so-slightly-above-league-average innings eater, makin him a fitting replacement for Jon Garland in the White Sox's rotation over the last four seasons. Floyd actually enters this start on a bit of a run, having gone 3-0 with a 0.81 ERA over his last three starts, and he aced the Yankees back in April, striking out ten while allowing just two runs (both on solo homers) over eight innings in a tight 3-2 Chicago victory.
Burnett didn't have a win or a quality start in July, but he did strike out 35 men in 31 3/3 innings and his 4.83 ERA, while poor, wasn't disastrous. Also, while Burnett didn't pick up any wins, the Yankees did win two of his five starts and averaged less than three runs scored per game in his other three. All of which is typical Burnett: he's not pitching well enough to help, but he's also not pitching poorly enough to get booted from the rotation (though, as we saw last year, the Yankees tolerance for Bad A.J. is particularly high, likely thanks to his unmovable contract). If the Yankees are looking for a spot for Ivan Nova, it's right here, but you're probably tired of reading that by now.
Ivan Nova (9-4, 4.01) vs. Philip Humber (8-7, 3.44), Thursday, August 4, 8:10, YES
Nova, who is probably the Yankees' fourth-best starter right now, forced his way back into the rotation on Saturday by holding the admittedly weak Orioles' lineup to two runs over seven innings and striking out six. The Yankees have won his last six starts, and he has gone 5-1 with a 3.22 ERA in his last six. In his last 14 starts, he is 8-2 with a 3.35 ERA. He still needs to miss more bats, and he didn't induce nearly enough ground balls on Saturday, but he has given every indication that he is maturing into a legitimate major league starter. As a result, the Yankees will go with a six-man rotation for the moment. Whether or not that lasts beyond this week remains to be seen, but Nova has simply pitched too well over the last three months to be sent back to Triple-A again.
Humber, whom the Mets made the third overall pick in the 2004 draft, then later sent to the Twins in the Johan Santana trade, went 8-4 with a 2.57 ERA in his first 15 starts for the White Sox this season, including seven scoreless innings against the Yankees in which he allowed just one hit and a pair of walks. However, that success was built on the flimsy foundation of a .220 opponent's average on balls in play, a bit of luck which has swung hard in the other direction over his last four starts (.469 BABIP, 0-3, 9.00 ERA). Though Humber had an eight-strikeout game among those last three, in general he doesn't strike many men out, and is thus particularly susceptible to the impact of balls in play because he allows so many of them.
Chicago White Sox
2011 Record: 52-54 (.491)
2011 Third-Order Record: 54-52 (.508)
Manager: Ozzie Guillen
General Manager: Ken Williams
Home Ballpark: U.S. Cellular Field
Bill James Park Indexes (2008-2010):
LH Avg-99; LH HR-117
RH Avg-98; RH HR-145
Who's replacing whom:
• Alejandro De Aza has replaced Alex Rios in center fielder and Mark Teahen (TOR) on the roster
• Omar Vizquel has replaced Brent Morel at third base
• Tyler Flowers (mL) has replaced Ramon Castro (DL)
• Jake Peavy (DL) has replaced Edwin Jackson (STL)
• Jason Frasor (TOR) has replaced Tony Peña (DL)
• Brian Bruney (mL) has replaced Jeff Gray (SEA)
1B - Paul Konerko (R)
2B - Gordon Beckham (R)
SS - Alexei Ramirez (R)
3B - Omar Vizquel (S)
C - A.J. Pierzynski (L)
RF - Carlos Quentin (R)
CF - Alejandro De Aza (L)
LF - Juan Pierre (L)
DH - Adam Dunn (L)
R - Alex Rios (OF)
R - Brent Lillibridge (UT)
R - Brent Morel (IF)
R - Tyler Flowers (C)
L - Mark Buehrle
R - Jake Peavy
L - John Danks
R - Gavin Floyd
R - Philip Humber
R - Sergio Santos
R - Jesse Crain
L - Matt Thornton
R - Jason Frasor
L - Chris Sale
L - Will Ohman
R - Brian Bruney
C - Ramon Castro (fractured right hand and index finger)
RHP - Tony Peña (right elbow tendonitis)
L - Juan Pierre (LF)
S - Omar Vizquel (3B)
R - Paul Konerko (1B)
L - Adam Dunn (DH)
R - Carlos Quentin (RF)
L - A.J. Pierzynski (C)
R - Alexei Ramirez (SS)
L - Alejandro De Aza (CF)
R - Gordon Beckham (2B)