Finally, the White Sox head home.
At the All-Star Break, the White Sox sat nine games over .500 and led the AL Central by three games.
After starting out the second half with 16 of 19 games away from U.S. Cellular Field, losing seven of the first 10 and getting swept by Detroit in the process ... the White Sox are 10 games over .500, and hold a 2½-game lead. Compare!
AL Central Standings - July 9
AL Central Standings - Aug. 2
The only teams that stand out are also falling out of the picture. Cleveland and Kansas City have started the second half 6-13; the cold, slimy fish that is the Indians' run differential slapped the Tribe in the face, thanks in part to a rudderless rotation with an ERA approaching 5.00. The Royals will probably always be feistier to the White Sox than they should be, but they're finally playing as poorly as their bloggers would have you believe they've played all year.
(Reading tweets from Rany Jazayerli -- who just got a profile in the Trib -- or Royals Review, it seems like Kansas City has spent the entire year losing three out of four. They just do not like the way Dayton Moore does business.)
The top remains largely unchanged, and that seems like a lie when living it day to day. At one point over the last two weeks, the White Sox lost five games of ground to the Tigers and trailed the division by 1½ games. The demoralizing sweep at Comerica Park could have been a three-game death punch.
But the White Sox dusted themselves off and won seven of nine, and in a few different ways. The demands of travel seemed to weaken their cornerstone of reliable defense -- Paul Konerko and Alexei Ramirez in particular looked like they were subjected to increasingly uncomfortable hotel beds -- but the Sox made up for it in other areas.
There was no such magic in Motown. The Tigers followed up that five-game winning streak by losing six of eight, and they dropped each of their last three road series. Two of those games were Justin Verlander starts, and his story is a familiar one. The Tigers are only 13-9 when he's on the mound, just a half-game better than the White Sox with Jake Peavy (12-9). Dave Dombrowski shopped for a middle-of-the-order bat at the deadline, due to the often inadequate run support, and he couldn't find one.
When following one team, it's easy to treat downturns as wholly unique. The lineup lets good starts go to waste. Addison Reed makes closing out games tougher than it should be. Injuries keep getting in the way.
Well, the Tigers' problems look awfully familiar. And that's why they're 2½ games behind in a division they were supposed to win going away, and at the moment, it looks like true separation is a bridge too far for either team.
August offers a few different respites for the Sox. They have today off, and two of the next three Thursdays, too. They'll open a nine-game homestand with three against the Angels, but they'll once again miss their longtime nemesis Jered Weaver.
Just don't confuse it with an opportunity to let up, because the American League doesn't allow teams to relax for long. After the homestand, they travel to two places they've traditionally struggled -- Toronto and Kansas City -- before coming home to three against the Yankees.
It's not going to be easy, but it stands a better chance of being normal. At one point during that 3-7 road trip, the Sox had six rookies in the bullpen, and protecting the surviving starters became such a priority that starting Pedro Hernandez somehow became a good idea. And with John Danks out for the year, Chris Sale tiring and Gavin Floyd weirder than usual, maybe throwing Hernandez to the wolves will have benefits we'll never truly know.
Thanks to Kenny Williams and the healing powers of time, these Sox are sturdier than they were two weeks ago. Francisco Liriano, Brett Myers and Jesse Crain weren't around. Now they are. That's a pretty cool trick. The offense is still thin, but we knew that going in.
What we didn't know is how well they would handle adversity, and that was something Ozzie Guillen's teams struggled with. The way the Sox stumbled out of the break this year reminded me of 2010, but they've already proven dissimilar in one respect. That year, when the Sox lost the division lead, they never regained it. They grabbed a share of first two times, but the Twins stomped their fingers off the ledge by taking four of six, and the Sox faded.
Robin Ventura's squad rebounded from the Detroit sweep like pros, restoring their lead to nearly all of its original glory after losing ground five days in a row. They've shown they can take a punch, and that's heartening. After a very normal month, they'll have the opportunity punch back.