CHICAGO -- There are not too many races in which the competition waits around for you to catch up. The American League Central, however, has been setting itself up that way.
The White Sox have been inconsistent all season as they mix and match their new parts. But with Jose Abreu and Chris Sale together and healthy on the roster at the same time, the White Sox look as though they finally are ready to stand up and get noticed.
Abreu hit his 19th home run Wednesday -- and the second dinger off Tigers starter Justin Verlander this season -- and Sale gets a chance to pitch against Detroit on Thursday.
It doesn’t hurt that the Tigers have cooled off considerably after a hot start. Detroit has lost 16 of its past 22 games. There are no standout teams in the division thus far, but nobody has fallen out of contention, either.
All five AL Central teams are within 3½ games of each other, giving every squad hope that an extended run of victories can lead to a turn in first place.
For a team coming off a 99-loss season like the White Sox, nobody would blame them for feeling downright giddy. But even with the reversal of fortunes, nobody is ready to brag about the standings at this point of the season.
“We’ve had a good feeling,” second baseman Gordon Beckham said. “I don’t think it’s been one of those things where we’re just now thinking we can do this. We show up to play. We don’t expect to win the division today or tomorrow.
“We just kind of figured, you keep coming to the park, you keep doing the right things, good things will happen. I think that’s kind of where we’re at, and we’re getting some wins against a good team. We’re in a good spot.”
Beckham has been a huge part of the White Sox’s solid play. He had just one hit Wednesday, but it was a two-run single in a seven-run sixth inning that knocked Verlander from the game.
Verlander, who was tagged for seven runs on eight hits over 5 2/3 innings, has been a shell of his former self. A previous Cy Young winner, Verlander lasted less than six innings against the White Sox for the first time since July 26, 2008, at Comerica Park. His four walks gave him consecutive games of four free passes for the first time this season.
White Sox starter John Danks has been the opposite. Like Beckham, he has been a part of the White Sox’s revival of late with a fourth consecutive impressive start. The left-hander gave up two runs on six hits over seven innings and is 2-1 with a 1.55 ERA since May 24; opponents are hitting .178 against him over that stretch.
Danks agrees that it is far too early to get excited about having a decent vantage point to see the division leaders floundering just up the road.
“Yeah, we've had a good feeling from the get [go],” Danks said. “We're not looking at the scoreboard just yet or the standings; we're just trying to win every game we can. Nothing's changed. We've been a pretty confident bunch from the start of it and fully expect to be in the thick of it when the time comes.”
The last time the White Sox held a .500 record was May 26, 2013, when they were 24-24. They promptly lost eight consecutive games and 10 out of 11. And on June 11 of last year, exactly one year ago Wednesday, they started another tailspin, losing seven of eight.
At that point in 2013, there was nowhere to look but at upcoming trade possibilities. This year, there is a sense of optimism for a brighter future, even with a roster rebuild that isn’t quite complete.
Things are so much brighter these days that White Sox manager Robin Ventura was able to joke about a reminder from last season.
“Thanks, thanks for that,” he deadpanned. “Appreciate that. Always bring up the negative, don’t you? Just go right there. It was a nice win by us and you go right there.”
Teasing, laughing and maintaining a healthy amount of confidence is another sign of how good the White Sox are feeling these days.
“No, early on just playing there is a different vibe,” Ventura said. “When you’re able to score runs, it becomes different. There are different people here.
“There are quite a few people in there who didn’t have to live through last year. But the ones who did have to live through it, it was painful enough that you don’t want to see it happen again.”