Grading the White Sox halfway through the season

After another late-inning thriller from the Chicago White Sox, the standings of the AL Central have once again changed, with the 22-13 Sox at the top. Alone. The up-and-comer White Sox appear to be ahead of schedule, thanks to amazing contributions from their young stars, top to bottom, in the rotation and in the lineup. As we did with the Cubs, let’s take a look at the White Sox’s midseason report card:

Rotation: A-

Some of this grading is done on a curve, as the White Sox spent much time so far without Carlos Rodón or Reynaldo López, two important arms in their rotation. Despite those losses, though, their starters’ ERA is tired for the fifth best in baseball at 3.50. At 1.10, their HR/9 is the lowest in the majors and they’ve even gotten the seventh most innings out of their starting pitchers.

White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito

Lucas Giolito has once again emerged as one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball, culminating in a national realization of his brilliance by a no-hitter, thrown last week against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He has a 3.14 ERA with 1.007 WHIP and is second in the AL with 12.21 K/9. His numbers would look even better if it weren’t for a particularly poor opening day start. Taking it away, his ERA drops to 2.00 and his OPS allowed goes from an already impressive .546 to .476. Giolito’s taken the reins as the White Sox’s ace and, come October, will be a vital piece of how far they can go.

But the White Sox also have a reliable one-two punch beyond Giolito, starting with Dallas Keuchel, who, after being signed this offseason after a year with the Atlanta Braves, has been excellent as the second man in the White Sox’s rotation, with a 2.70 ERA and rising to the moment in some big-time starts. Never a big strikeout thrower, his HR/9 is lower than in 2015, when he won the AL Cy Young Award, as is his home run to-fly ball ratio, indicating he’s not giving up hard contact when a hitter gets one in the air.

Dylan Cease was seen as an x-factor in the rotation, somebody who could truly elevate the unit if he performed above expectations as the number three starter to go with Giolito and Keuchel. So far, he’s done just that, with a 3.00 ERA a solid 6.75 K/9. As someone with plus stuff but who struggled mightily with command in his 2019, his walk rate still remains an issue at 4.50/9, but he’s managed to survive so far. He may be due for some negative regression, as his BABIP is at .235, but he’s been a huge reason for the rotation’s success this season.

The Sox have been forced into patchwork to cover the backend of their rotation, using Gio Gonzalez and bullpen arms to take the places of López and Rodón. López got off the IL last and has made two starts, but has yet to make it beyond four innings without allowing multiple runs. Rodón threw a bullpen on Sunday and will slowly be brought back, but nevertheless, the back of the rotation still has questions. Luckily for the White Sox, their front three have led the way.

Bullpen: A

The White Sox have gotten flat out dominant performances from Matt Foster, Evan Marshall, Ross Detweiler and Alex Colomé. The group as a whole has the 10th lowest ERA in baseball and have the seventh best strikeout-to-walk ratio, at 2.84.

Foster, Detweiler and Colomé all have sub-2.0 ERAs and Marshall. Collectively, they’ve allowed just nine runs in 57.1 IP, striking out 62 and walking only 16. Colomé is seven for eight in save opportunities, the lone blown save also being the lone instance of surrendering a run. Between those four pitchers, Rick Renteria has his pick of who he can throw out in big moments, but the bullpen has also gotten solid contributions from Jace Fry, who hasn’t surrendered a run in his last 7.2 IP, Cody Heuer and Dane Dunning. Overall, the Sox’s bullpen has been a reliable weapon for them, anchored by a strong grouping of relievers that will likely be their go-to relievers in October.

Lineup: A+

If nothing else, the White Sox’s lineup has a flair for the dramatic, collecting multiple late-inning, comeback wins over the last week, the most recent of which was Luis Robert’s heroics last night against the Minnesota Twins, when he tied the game in the seventh with a solo homerun and broke the tie with a ground rule double in the 9th.

Their lineup drips with power, dotted by dangerous bats one-through-nine. They have the third most homeruns in baseball, the fourth most runs and the second highest wOBA and wRC+. José Abreu and Eloy Jiménez are fourth and 10th in in baseball in homeruns, with 12 and 11, respectively, and Luis Robert is not far behind with his 10 homers.

White Sox centerfielder Luis Robert

Robert, for his part, has been dynamite as of late; he’s hit three home runs in the last seven days with a .478 ISO, slugging .913 in the process. His late-inning heroics go beyond Monday’s crucial win against the Twins, but also to Sunday’s victory. He leads all rookies in home runs and RBIS, and is seventh in wOBA and wRC+.

José Abreu powered the White Sox in the early days of this momentous run they’ve been on recently by six home runs in three games against the Chicago Cubs two weeks ago, and they are 7-2 since then. Tim Anderson is still hitting above .300, at .330 and Jiménez had a slash line of .295/.336/.598. That’s not to mention Nick Madrigal’s recent return to the lineup, who’s gone 7-13 in three games back, or James McCann’s 167 wRC+. The White Sox are in a good spot and, thanks to one of the best lineups in baseball, don’t appear to be going anyway anytime soon.

Prediction for the end of season: AL Central Champs

I’m feeling bold. Though the Twins are one of the most dangerous teams in baseball, so are the White Sox, as they’ve proven over the last few days. A win tonight would put them 3.5 ahead of Minnesota and potentially 2.0 ahead of Cleveland, who just traded Mike Clevinger. There is something to playoff reps that the White Sox don’t have, but they look an awful lot like the 2015 Cubs right now, no-hitter and all.