Seven Things To Watch For In The Second Half
The official second half of the season will begin on Friday night, and as White Sox fans, we're in a bit of an odd position this year. Or, at the very least, a position we aren't used to being in.
The White Sox may be in a tie for third place at the break, but they're 45-43, and only 4.5 games out of a Wild Card spot (though there are three teams between them and that spot). This is unusual because it's only the second time during Robin Ventura's tenure as White Sox manager that we've had a winning record at the break.
The last time it happened was in 2012, when the Sox were 47-38 and in first place in the division. The Sox would then play well over the rest of July and August before cratering in September and blowing the division lead, finishing 85-77, and missing the playoffs.
So what should we expect this year? I don't know.
I don't have the highest of hopes, but it's nice to at least be in a position at the break where good things could still happen. That just hasn't been the case around here lately. It's just been a slow march toward the end of the season, hoping for the best possible draft pick.
This year there's some intrigue left, and these are the things I'll be paying attention for over the second half.
1. The Next Few Weeks Are Critical: Once games begin on Friday night we'll be about two weeks away from the trade deadline, which means the next couple of weeks could decide the season for the White Sox. While they're starting on the road, the schedule isn't too difficult. At least, not to the level of what the Sox were facing in May and June.
It'll start with the Angels and Mariners on the road, before returning home to take on the Tigers and Cubs. The Tigers series will end a week before the deadline, and it could prove to be the deciding series for what Rick Hahn chooses to do.
If the Sox do well in those first nine games, and win a series against Detroit, it could spur them to make a move to make a playoff push. If they lose those three series, well, they may transition into sell mode.
What can't happen is what happened last season.
It was last year that the White Sox entered the All Star break with a 41-45 record, and we were all sure the season was over. Kansas City was 52-34 at the time, a full 11 games ahead of the Sox.
The Sox would open the second half losing three of four to the Royals, and being swept in a two-game series with the Cardinals, falling to 42-50 on the year.
But then it happened.
Starting on July 23, a week before the deadline, the Sox went on a seven-game win streak to get to 49-50. At this point the Sox fooled themselves into thinking they could actually contend for a playoff spot, and even if they didn't make any major acquisitions, they didn't sell off pieces like Jeff Samardzija or anything else they could have received a decent return for.
The Sox then went 12-16 in August, falling out of the race entirely. They couldn't make a decision as to what they were, or what they wanted to do, and that led to a lot of the decisions we saw this winter which have led to them being in a similar position this year.
I don't know if the Sox are going to continue playing well, or if they're going to fall apart, or if they'll just be somewhere in the middle. I just know that, whatever direction they take, the front office better be able to honestly judge this team, and what they should become at the deadline.
A repeat of last season's indecision could be devastating in the long run.
2. Can Jose Abreu Find His Power Again: Through the first two seasons of his MLB career, Jose Abreu was hitting home runs in 5.1% of his at bats, and had an extra-base hit in 10.9% of his at bats. This year those numbers are down to 2.9% and 8.2% respectively, and as a result, he has 11 home runs and is slugging .430. He's on pace to hit about 21 homers, which would be well below his career low of 30 last season, and his career slugging percentage was .540 coming into the season.
I don't know exactly, I just want to see it change. Honestly, if Abreu doesn't start hitting for more power, this team isn't going to have a shot at the playoffs. Todd Frazier can't be the only guy going deep, because aside from Frazier and Abreu, there are guys capable of hitting dongs once in a while, but there aren't any true power threats.
3. Can Todd Frazier Avoid The Second-Half Slump: Frazier has always been a better first half player than a second half player. This is concerning now more than before because Frazier is currently hitting .213/.305/.476 in the first half. Yeah, the homers have been great, and he's seemingly started coming out of it in the week before the break, but the Sox offense needs him to be more.
He has to be a hitter that hits home runs, not just a guy who hits home runs.
Much like the Sox will need Abreu if they want to reach the playoffs, the same can be said of Frazier.
4. Does Chris Sale Give Up The Pitch-To-Contact Approach: It started off wonderfully, and it's hard to argue about a guy who is 14-3, with a 3.38 ERA and just started the All Star Game for the American League. He's had some great results, but if you look a little closer, Chris Sale isn't quite Chris Sale right now.
Sale made 18 starts for the White Sox in the first half. Over the first nine, Sale had an ERA of 1.58, and opponents were hitting .163/.206/.250 against him. He'd allowed five home runs in 68.1 innings.
In the last nine? Well, things have changed a bit.
In that stretch Sale has an ERA of 5.56, is allowing a slash line of .291/.344/.507, and has given up 12 home runs in 56.2 innings.
That's quite a drastic change!
Now, maybe it's just a bad stretch, or maybe opponents have figured out how to deal with pitch-to-contact Sale, and are just doing a very good job of making that contact he so desires.
Will Sale change things up in the second half? I hope he does, because the last six weeks haven't been very fun to watch.
5. Can Carlos Rodon Find Some Consistency: I'm not surprised that Carlos Rodon has been a bit of a roller coaster this season. He's 23 years old and has only 39 MLB starts under his belt. There are very few pitchers who show up in the Majors with as little minor league experience as Rodon -- don't forget he only made eight starts in the minors before coming to Chicago! -- had who dominate right away. Rodon has some magnificent stuff, but he's still learning how to pitch.
In college he could get by just blowing hitters away with his fastball, or duping them into swinging at a slider that had no chance of being a strike. Major League hitters aren't going to fall for that shit unless they're behind in the count, and they're forced to be a bit more aggressive.
While watching Rodon over the second half, I'm going to try not to focus on the results as much as I am his location. Is he hitting the glove, or are Avila and Navarro having to stab at the ball repeatedly?
6. What Happens To Avisail Garcia: Whether the Sox become buyers or sellers, I want to see how much longer this experiment carries on. I imagine that, if the Sox sell off major parts, they might be inclined to keep playing Avi just because they've nothing to lose, and maybe his negative impact on the field would lead to positive results for their draft position.
But, man, I'm so done with this.
Even if the Sox fall out of it, I'd rather see just about anybody else taking on the designated hitter/corner outfielder role over the second half.
I've just seen enough. Hell, I saw enough long before the season started.
7. Basking In Timmy Time: Tim Anderson has been a joy to watch thus far, and he's been better than I ever expected in the field. I'm just going to continue watching, hope he keeps playing well, and then spend the entire winter praying he doesn't follow the Gordon Beckham career arc.