CHICAGO -- Not far removed from their lowest point of the season, the Chicago White Sox will look to build on some momentum they created for themselves as the first half came to a close.
The schedule will do them no favors, of course, as the Kansas City Royals arrive at U.S. Cellular Field for a four-game series to kick off the post All-Star break portion of the season. And to make matters even more challenging, the second half will start with a day/night doubleheader.
It’s not unlike how the season started, actually, although that time it was the White Sox who were visiting the Royals. When Kansas City swept that season-opening series by a combined score of 21-7, it signaled that some long days were ahead.
It took nearly six weeks of the season for Chris Sale to find himself and another month-plus for the rest of the team to start feeding off one of the more incredible pitching runs in baseball history, but the White Sox are finally looking like something of a cohesive unit.
Jeff Samardzija has also picked up his pitching game, while rookie Carlos Rodon is starting to emerge as a force to be reckoned with. The defense is better and the baserunning has stabilized itself too.
Yet two issues still face the White Sox and only one of them has to do with the offense.
The White Sox went into the break dead last in all of baseball with 292 runs scored and last in slugging percentage at .355. That means the White Sox are worse in slugging percentage than every National League club, which use pitchers in their lineups.
It brings the focus to the most chief issue of all: Whether the front office pulls up the stakes in the coming weeks and sends this traveling circus out of town.
The White Sox could keep the roster intact and hope the club still has time to make up ground in the standings. And by keeping the roster intact, it will give the White Sox the entire season to see how their nearly $120 million investment on player salaries actually would fare.
Or they could trade off assets now, add pieces to the farm system and call this year a lesson learned in the dangers of trying to rebuild too quickly.
As it turns out, the low point of the first half came on a sunny, late-June afternoon in Detroit when Samardzija was mowing down one of the league's better offenses only to see things slip from his control when the Tigers rallied in the late innings. The Tigers won with a game-ending home run against the bullpen.
The White Sox moved 10 games under .500 at 32-42, tied for a season low. Since then though, the White Sox have managed to pick themselves up and dust themselves off, going 9-3 to close out the first half.
It is far from surprising that after the White Sox’s demoralizing defeat at Detroit, it was Sale who started the turnaround. Two days later, he took the mound at St. Louis and started the White Sox toward a rejuvenating 2-1 victory in extra innings against the Cardinals.
The White Sox actually swept the brief two-game interleague series against the Cardinals and then won series against the Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays and Chicago Cubs in that order.
After the Royals come to town over the weekend, it won’t get any easier, as the White Sox will then play host to a Cardinals team that figures to be bent on revenge.
Odds for the White Sox to make the playoffs remain long. They will open the second half 11 games off the Royals’ American League Central lead and tied for last place in the division with the Cleveland Indians.
They are also 5 1/2 games out of a wild-card berth, which certainly sounds more reasonable, but they would still have to leapfrog seven American League teams just to become playoff eligible, the six that are trailing in the wild-card standings ahead of them and the one holding the final playoff spot.
The clue as to whether the White Sox are willing to keep the team as it is, and make a run that still looks improbable, came from executive vice president Kenny Williams two days before the club’s meltdown at Detroit.
“I’ve addressed it with [chairman] Jerry [Reinsdorf] directly and his comment to me was, ‘Listen, I thought we were in a pretty darn good position when we left the winter meetings,’” Williams said. “We felt good where we were, but we felt good about where we were for 2015, ’16 and ’17. So we’re not going to abandon ship right now because of three months into what is a three-year plan.”
Who knows if Williams felt differently when the White Sox dropped that heartbreaker to the Tigers two days later. The facts, though, are that the White Sox were eight games under .500 (32-40) when Williams said he wasn’t prepared to abandon ship, and the club is four games under now at 41-45.
If the White Sox can continue to pitch like they are now, they will start to make things interesting ... eventually. But if they never figure out how to hit, they are going to bury the pitchers under the weight of all those pressure innings.