The White Sox have been no titans of baseball at any point in the season, but entering into September they had set themselves up well to only have to play .500 baseball, and coast drearily into the playoffs in the worst division in baseball. Even ~.500 play would have them tied for the division lead at the moment, and still playing with the amount of hope you could wrap your hands around like lovehandles.
But thanks to losing eight games out of nine at a really, profoundly awful time, the Sox are now 10-15 for September, and are currently set up to have their first month with a negative run differential all season. Run differential, the thing that used to just be for making fun of the Cleveland Indians.
They're also two games back of Detroit with six games to play, but you have probably already heard about that.
Not once during this crippling stretch have the Sox lost by even as many as five runs. A late Friday night 6-2 defeat to the Angels was the closest they came to being blown out.
It doesn't win them any extra points, in fact it probably loses some, because fans and media have flicked on the Sox to see them close out a division title, and seen the same rerun of "Aging team pisses away winnable games" playing for a week and a half.
The Unclutchiest Clutchness to Ever Clutch a Bat
On the surface, this has been the same mediocre hitting club that's been occupying this space all season long. The Sox are hitting .245/.319/.419 this month, which doesn't differ much from their season mark of .255/.318/.422. That's a two point difference in OPS, for goodness sake.
But they've morphed into the fourth-worst offense in the league in terms of actual runs, because they have simply stopped hitting in RBI situations. We checked in just Monday to find that after hitting .288 with runners in scoring position all year, that average had dropped to .193 in September. Since Monday, with runners in scoring position, the Sox have hit....you guessed it, .193. This is the new normal, and it's the worst thing ever.
Everyone can watch A.J. Pierzynski, Dayan Viciedo, Alex Rios, Alexei Ramirez flail at the first pitch with the bases juiced and figure that bad at-bats are the problem, shake their fist at the sky while crying "MANTOOOOO!", and maybe that'd be correct. But this is the same approach that was money in the bank all the way through July.
Old Bats In the Cold
It's a point that's weakened by the fact that the White Sox have been able to maintain the same perfectly average batting line all season, but the aging lions they stacked the middle of the order with all seem to be wearing down as the 162 game slate winds to the close.
Paul Konerko, 36 - .254/.326/.405 since June 1st
Adam Dunn, 32, - .196/.315/.442 since June 1st
A.J. Pierzynski, 35, - .244/.287/.390 since September 1st
Alex Rios, 31, - .271/.294/.468 since August 1st
Kevin Youkilis, 33, - .225/.326/.375 since September 1st
Dunn has had a mini-resurgence this month, Konerko resembles someone who is hurt, Rios is streaky, had a god-mode July, and still plays defense, and Pierzynski and Youkilis are just having singular bad months. But in sum, these are decidedly uninspiring finishing kicks from an aging core. Expect to see this trend referred to plenty if the Sox decide to rebuild and get younger.
It's been an impressive, if not astounding feat to see the Sox keep Chris Sale and Jake Peavy in the rotation all year long. Sale is going to finish just short of 200 innings, and Peavy is just one skipped turn in the rotation from setting a career-high in innings.
Keeping those two upright has also beaten the hell out of whatever dipping into the Sox farm system would have produced, but Robin, Cooper, and Herm haven't gotten the reward for their efforts they might have liked.
- Pre-All-Star break - 2.19 ERA, 3.92 K/BB, .256 BABIP
- Post-All-Star break - 3.66 ERA, 3.78 K/BB, .325 BABIP
Despite obvious changes in velocity and approach, Sale has simply been as unlucky with balls in play and home runs as he was lucky in the 1st half. Chances are not having his top fastball sapped some of his ability to defy his peripherals, though.
- Pre-All-Star break - 2.85 ERA, 4.15 K/BB, .254 BABIP
- Post-All-Star break - 4.05 ERA, 3.55 K/BB, .308 BABIP
Peavy more flat-out lost some of his sharpness on his slider and his ability to efficiently work through innings as the workload piled up. Both remained very good pitchers considering their home ballpark, but they were human at a time where their offense was removing the margin for error.
Just for the fun of it, let's throw in Jose Quintana regressing like it's going out of style.
- Pre-All-Star break - 2.04 ERA, 3.70 K/BB, .262 BABIP
- Post-All-Star break - 4.80 ERA, 1.41 K/BB, .328 BABIP
Early on, Jose just didn't walk anyone. No one! No one at all! There was no historical precedent for it! Why was it happening? Well, it stopped happening, so we don't have to look into it much more. He's still is better than one could have hoped for given his pedigree and experience.
And the White Sox in general have been more than could have been hoped for all season long. Depth and age were issues coming into the year, and have been nipping at their ankles all year long. They might have staved it all off, if someone could have just gotten a damn hit with runners on.