Looking back on the streak that was

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I'm all for doing things emphatically; whether it be breaking off relationships, arguing that Alexei Ramirez was safe at 1st, or absolutely ruining your professional reputation amongst your co-workers forever.  So maybe the White Sox shattering their 11-game winning streak via a complete pitching breakdown and getting bashed around by a previously moribund Cubs offense is the best way to end things.  At least the team won't be lingering on the loss and thinking what might have been.  What might have been??  It might have been worse, the Cubs had 16 friggin baserunners.

At least that's what I was thinking right up to the moment where Carlos Marmol decided to take it easy on the first 7 batters of the inning, walking three, allowing hits to two, and putting the tying run on base before refocusing and striking out the Sox' 2nd-best hitter.

But let's not linger on the game I spent $40 to sit in upper deck seats during and watched the Sox offense roll over and die against Ryan Dempster despite the fact that he went up over 120 pitches in, let's focus on the win streak that just completely changed everything about this season in every way.

Two weeks ago, the White Sox were 28-34, 7.5 games out of first, and coming off of a series versus the Cubs where they pitched notably well and looked lively at times, but also laid a total egg offensively on national television in a primetime game at Wrigley that probably lacked a lot of the violence and brutality of this past Saturday's affair at the Cell.  But this article isn't about how much things stunk before this stretch of winning any more than its about the fact that I clearly saw a child drinking a margarita Sunday in the stands.  So let's run down the three most awesome things about the 11-game winning streak, in ascending order of importance.

3.  Carlos Quentin - SOBER!

When Carlos was struggling to come back from a foot injury last season, Ozzie commented that he "ran like an old drunk".  Well, early this season, Quentin wasn't running any better, was fielding like an old drunk, hit for contact like an old drunk, and had so many pop-ups in the infield that if pop-ups were vicodin, there would have been at least seven interventions for CQ by the end of May, and I'd be spending all my time making Quentin-Brett Favre comparisons.

But now, Carlos is sprightly.  After not playing in the first game of the streak, Carlos hit .394 in the last 10 games of the run, with 4 HR, 13 RBI while posting a .487 OBP, and a .879 slugging percentage for a monstrous 1.366 OPS.  More than that, he's been an impact player, single-handedly winning (as much as a position player can) the June 23rd Atlanta game and launching the opening victory over the Cubs with huge home runs.

Now he's still a trainwreck in the outfield, and if our DH's are going to be a rotation of Kotsay and Jones, who have far better defensive ratings and are both outfielders, really one of them should play the outfield and CQ should DH so that he's not a threat to break every bone in his body every time he slides for a catch, and management can convince the fan base that they at least try to follow logic sometimes.  But still, good to see Quentin hitting like he doesn't have a broken wrist.

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If it were legal, the Sox would have CQ just tag Brent Lillibridge to run for him immediately after he made contact

2. Minnesota Twins took their foot of the accelerator, parked the car, got out, bought a chili cheese dog from 7-Eleven, then fell asleep in the bathroom

During the 11-game streak, the White Sox made up 6 games on the Twins.  6! 
In previous years the White Sox have cleaned up in interleague play, but it's been rendered somewhat irrelevant due to the fact that EVERY AL team cleans up in interleague play.  Not this year.  Minny went 5-6 during the streak (and lost Sunday as well), just finished their 9-game road trip with only 3 wins, were swept by Milwaukee, and have been shut out in 2 of their last 4 games.  Before anyone thinks that the Sox are a flash in the pan and can't compete in the long run, take a moment and examine how not-awesome the Twins and their starting rotation are.  Between Detroit, Minny, and the ChiSox, this looks to be a 3-team race between a collection of teams that might finish 5th if they played in the AL East.

By the way, Minnesota and Detroit have six games with each other in the next two weeks, including a series beginning Monday, while the Sox fly out to face the Royals.  Nice.

3.  Gavin Floyd, Jake Peavy, and Mark Buehrle

Freddy Garcia and John Danks have really been consistent contributors all season long, and the winning streak was just a continuation of that.  Plus I just watched Danks throw 85 high changeups in a row in person, and am not really in a place to speak positively about him right now.

The 'Buehrle is Buehrle' argument has gained a lot more credence of recent.  When he was getting banged around this season, the defense for Mark was that he's the type of guy who can hit for stretches, always has been and would eventually recover, and we all need to stop freaking out that he has a 5.40 ERA and just got annihilated by the Cleveland Indians.  Since that start, Mark is 3-0 in 3 starts with a 1.80 ERA and 1.25 WHIP, with only two walks in 20 innings while looking exactly the same as he did when he was getting roughed up.

He's also racked up an uncharacteristically high 8.05 K per 9 innings, and cleaned up against interleague opponents after claiming earlier this year that he's at a loss for how to fool teams that have seen him dozens of times already.  So there's that.

Jake Peavy has generally just had a pretty good June, going 3-1 with 24 Ks, a 1.20 ERA and an incredible 0.80 WHIP in four starts.  This has been pretty surprising given that Jake's shoulder has been threatening to fall off the entire time, and he's been gamely playing through it.  When he was complaining about diminished velocity earlier in the season, I didn't understand what Jake was blubbering about because he couldn't seem to throw a breaking pitch or a strike, and these seemed like much bigger problems.  But watching Jake of recent and seeing him bullying hitters with a fastball that hits 94 with movement has been revelatory.  As impressive as it was to see him gut out a complete game shutout against the Nationals with an aching shoulder, he was more impressive Friday against the Cubs where all his pitches were working, and he showed the potential to be an elite strikeout pitcher for one of the few times all season.

Gavin Floyd (Gloyd, G-Loyd, Sir Gloydamus) has not only been the best turnaround story of the entire staff, as he was completely and utterly lost for long stretches of the season, but has been without a doubt the best pitcher during the last 18 games.  In his last 4 stars, Floyd has actually been 0-1, but posted an ERA of 0.93 and a preposterous 0.76 WHIP.  Floyd still has a tendency to walk batters, so that WHIP is a product of Gavin being utterly unhittable of recent (.147 batting average against).  Gavin's quality start versus Detroit that was blown by the bullpen started the run of good pitching, he had a no-hit duel with Ted Lilly and was clearly more overpowering, he stood toe-to-toe with Stephen Strasburg in a game the Sox eventually won, and threw 7 shutout inning versus the AL East leading Braves in another Sox win.  He's been striking out over a batter an inning, looks supremely confident, and has finally been validating the 'best stuff of the staff' title that he's held for a while.  In performance and in what he means for the team down the road, Gavin Floyd's resurgence has been the best thing about 11-game winning streak and the Sox' return to contention

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Yeah, I'm talking about you, big guy.

   
Unfortunately for the Sox, the real work begins now in maintaining their run and launching a real bid for the division title now that they've managed to re-enter the conversation.  If they're to do anything, the three main factors of the win streak will need to remain present; Carlos Quentin (or some other random guy we got out there) needs to provide steady production alongside Konerko and Rios, the pitching needs to continue to be the best in the AL*, and the Twins need to continue to stumble forth like they just had a 2 x 4 wrapped across their forehead after a 20-drink night.

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*I mean for the last three weeks, not the whole season, I'm not a crazy person! 

 

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