Sixty games in baseball is usually just over a third of a full season. With the way the shortened season is set up this year, teams do not have time to ease into the season and have to be at the top of their game right out of the gate. This leaves room for some surprise teams that may not normally be in contention for a playoff spot.
However, with an expanded playoff format and significantly less games, there were bound to be unexpected teams to thrive. Ever since 2015, the Chicago Cubs have dominated the limelight of the city, but this season it is their AL counterparts on the South Side of the city that have stolen the headlines.
After years and years of dreadful seasons, the White Sox have finally put a formidable team on the field that has been able to perform. Chicago’s last winning season was 2012, and their last playoff appearance was in 2008.
Saying they have been in rebuild mode for over the past decade is a massive understatement. A combination of prospects not producing and failed expectations after high spending off-seasons have resulted in this team being stuck in the gutter of the AL Central for years now.
Though good player development, smart trades, and fantastic patience have allowed this team to gradually grow and eventually blossom into the finished product that is their 2020 roster.
They have made some bold moves over the years; for instance, trading Cy Young candidate Chris Sale during his prime, or dealing away one of their top outfielders in Adam Eaton, but these questionable moves at the time are now starting to pay off.
As of September 8, 2020, the Chicago White Sox are tied with the Cleveland Indians for the AL Central lead with a 26-15 record. There are numerous factors contributing to Chicago’s sudden success as they have played like a truly cohesive team this season.
One of the most substantial improvements for the White Sox is their pitching. Last season, they had a terrible team ERA of 4.90, which was even worse than their 100-loss 2018 team. They ranked 22nd in baseball last year in that category, and in comparison to this season, the results are drastically different.
Chicago currently has a 3.74 ERA, ranking sixth in all of baseball as this pitching staff is on an entirely new pedestal this year. Their rotation is led by young Lucas Giolito, who they acquired from the Washington Nationals in the Eaton deal.
He has already had one of the most impressive games of the year so far, pitching a no-hitter in a thirteen-strikeout performance against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Giolito has really developed into an ace this season after becoming a first time All-Star in 2019.
To support him in the rotation is former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel. The veteran pitcher looks to have returned to his prime self as he is 6-2 with a 2.19 ERA. Chicago signed him to sure up their rotation, but no one expected him to pitch this effectively.
Dylan Cease has been another pleasant surprise as the young prospect has adjusted well to the major league level after a rocky rookie season. He has been able to maintain hitters, holding them to a .232 batting average and pitching his way to a strong 3.29 ERA.
Pitching is very important in a season like this, where every game possesses so much importance and having reliable players like these, who can keep the team in the game is essential. A good starter is useless if there is no one to finish. What Chicago has been able to do when they have had a lead late is close the door. Relievers like Evan Marshall, Codi Heuer, and Ross Detwiler have all had stellar seasons.
Marshall is coming off a solid 2019 campaign and has followed it up with an even better 2020, pitching to an ERA below 2.00. Heuer has pitched very nicely for a rookie reliever put right into a pennant race. And Detwiler has bounced back great from a horrendous season last year with a sensational 1.59 ERA.
To cap off this dominant pen is their closer Alex Colomé. The 31-year old has always been consistent, going all the way back to his days in Tampa Bay, but this season he has brought his pitching to another level. Holding batters to a .193 batting average with a dazzling 1.15 ERA, Colomé has even bested himself.
Pitching is vital, but wins do not come without runs and the White Sox have had no shortage of offense in 2020. They are first in the American League in runs scored (218), batting average (.269), and home runs (71). The total team numbers are slightly skewed because some teams have played far fewer games than others, but the bottom-line is that the White Sox can flat out hit.
One of their main contributors is their 2013 first round pick Tim Anderson. The shortstop earned himself a batting title last season and has been able to replicate his hitting prowess this year too. He has somehow upped his .335 batting average from last season to .351, while also improving his slugging percentage by nearly ninety points.
Another bat that has come alive better this season is Eloy Jiménez. After blasting 30+ home runs last season, Jiménez already has 11 long balls in only 39 games, while also hitting for a higher average.
One player that has struggled early on is third baseman Yoan Moncada, the main piece in the Chris Sale trade, however, following a phenomenal season last year, in which he was selected to the All-Star team, there is no reason to believe that he will not get back in groove.
And the player who has really helped lead the White Sox to success this year is their reliable, durable, and consistent first baseman José Abreu. In 2013, he defected from Cuba and signed with the White Sox. Ever since then, he has been nothing but productive; hitting 20+ home runs every season (four 30+ seasons), driving in 100+ runs in all but one injury shortened season (2018), and having a career .294 batting average.
Abreu has been with this team for all the bad, which is why he deserves the good even more. As usual, the first baseman out of Cuba has been carrying the weight of the offense. He ranks 5th in the league in home runs (13), first in runs batted in (40), and is doing all this while hitting a staggering .315. Abreu has been such a force this year that he even had a one week stretch in which he hit seven home runs.
There is no secret to the White Sox success, as they have just developed a real outstanding team. They built their foundation through the draft, difficult trades, and good free agent signings, and now it is time for those moves to pay dividends.
The team on the South Side of Chicago is ready to win right now. Every team rebuilding should look at the White Sox as a template on how to make a successful ballclub. The hard times are over for this franchise and now it is time to compete.