The manner of baseball the White Sox have been playing recently--light on the baserunners, stingy on the clutch hitting and fresh out of starters who look fresh out on the mound--is a secondary concern.
Team performance has shown itself annoyingly capable and willing of turning on a dime, even after everyone is filling buoyed and rejuvenated by a thrilling win. Even though the Sox don't seem particularly geared up for a turnaround, that's less significant than what they've lost.
Upon knocking off the Tigers on a Monday just nine days ago, the Sox vaulted themselves into a three-game lead, with no further showdowns against a team that murdered them all season long. Their odds of making the playoffs stood at 83% according to Baseball Prospectus, and 84.5% according to Cool Standings. Good times for a celebratory cocktail or five, these were.
Since then, they've ripped that advantage down to where the Tigers are the odds-on favorite going forward. The Sox odds for post-season involvement are now listed at 48.1% by Cool Standings, and had already dipped to 63% on Baseball Prospectus before factoring in Tuesday.
Obviously if the Sox can't hit Corey Kluber, or keep Russ Canzler in the ballpark, they will have no trouble derailing the season on their own. But even in the best of circumstances they have placed too much importance on outplaying Detroit over a stretch that is markedly more difficult.
The White Sox need to figure out if Jose Quintana is making any more starts for them in 2012 after his relief appearance, and whether they want to entrust the platoon advantage with Francisco Liriano and Hector Santiago against the Indians, or go with superior talents in Jake Peavy and Gavin Floyd.
But the point of this chart should be clear, one team shown here has a top rotation competing for a playoff birth about to roll through town, while the other faces perhaps one more above-average starter all year. I'm not even sure which one I would say that is. Scott Diamond has the prettiest overall statistical line, but has been knocked around the entire 2nd half. Jeremy Guthrie is probably pitching as well as anyone listed here.
There's no way to project eight games with any confidence, especially with two clearly mediocre fringe contenders. But I will miss the White Sox being on the right side of statistical probability, and not having to lean on "well, you never know" as a guiding principle.