TORONTO - There have been some eyebrow-raising performances in the first third of the season in Major League Baseball.
The Baltimore Orioles and the Los Angeles Dodgers come quickly to mind but perhaps none moreso than the Chicago White Sox, who have surged into the lead in the AL Central, winning 14 of their last 16 games.
When White Sox general manager Kenny Williams traded closer Sergio Santos to the Blue Jays for prospect Nestor Molina in December, he even mentioned the word “rebuilding.” Then veteran lefty Mark Buehrle left as a free agent. Carlos Quentin was dispatched to San Diego and rumours swirled about the rest of the underachieving lineup from 2011.
At the heart of the White Sox startling resurgence have been the turnarounds of slugger Adam Dunn, outfielder Alex Rios and starter Jake Peavy.
Signed to a four-year, $56-million contract as a free agent prior to last season, Dunn, who had never hit fewer than 38 homers in his previous seven seasons, hit just 11 with the Sox, while batting a pathetic .159. This year he is hitting 63 points higher and already has 17 homers.
The dumping of Rios’s albatross contract in 2009 by the Jays was a stroke of luck authored by J.P. Ricciardi. The White Sox assumed more than $60 million in future salary by claiming Rios off waivers.
Rios had been a dud in Chicago, even moreso than he was in Toronto, but this season, he is hitting .289 with a .340 OBP and a .781 OPS while playing a good right field.
Once one of the National League’s top pitchers, Peavy was believed to be on the downside of his career after surgery in 2010 and a slow recovery in 2011. This year, he’s 6-1 with a 3.05 ERA and a WHIP under 1.00.
Fireballer Chris Sale has stepped into a rotation role and all he did in May was pitch well enough to be named AL pitcher of the month. Meanwhile, unknowns such as Jose Quintana have been mesmerizing opposing hitters. Then there are the contributions of youngsters such as Alejandro De Aza (.298 BA, .810 OPS) and Dayan Viciedo (.277 BA, .807 OPS).
Veterans Paul Konerko (league-leading .366 BA and 1.062 OPS) and A.J. Pierzynski (.291 BA, .850 OPS) are having career-type seasons and it all adds up to 21/2-game lead in the AL Central for rookie manager Robin Ventura’s team.
It’s hard not to believe that, at some point, the Detroit Tigers are going to get their act together and make a run at the White Sox, but the more ground Chicago can gain while they’re riding this hot streak, the better for them.
BLUE JAYS AT WHITE SOX
TUESDAY 8:10 p.m.LHP Ricky RomeroRHP Philip Humber
WEDNESDAY 8:10 p.m.RHP Brandon MorrowLHP Jose Quintana
THURSDAY 8:10 p.m.RHP Henderson AlvarezRHP Jake Peavy
As hot as the White Sox have been recently, they’re a team the Blue Jays have owned for the last five seasons before this one. Since the start of the 2007 season, the Blue Jays have won every season series against the Chicago southsiders, running up a 26-11 record in the 37 games during that period.
There’s bad blood between these teams, considering the White Sox were the sources of the dubious “man in white” theorem and the Jays are a little touchy about that.
Thinking Toronto wins two of three.
WHITE SOX WHO’S HOT
LHP Chris Sale was the May AL pitcher-of-the-month: 5-1, 1.71 ERA, .181 opponent BA, .481 opponent OPS.
Paul Konerko is hitting .366 this season with a 1.062 OPS, 11 HR, and 33 RBI
Adam Dunn already has six more homers (17) and just four less RBI (38) than in all of 2011.
WHITE SOX WHO’S COLD
Gavin Floyd has not been part of the Sox surge. Since May 1, he has had a 7.34 ERA and opponents’ .918 OPS.
Since his perfect game on April 21, Philip Humber is 1-2 in 7 starts with a 7.17 ERA and opponents’ OPS of .848