With all the questions going into the season - Adam Dunn, Alex Rios, Jake Peavy, Chris Sale, the bullpen, etc. - there was a palpable fear that 2012 would just be a re-run of last season. If the 2012 version of the White Sox does still end up being a .500ish team, they're at least going to do it differently.
The 2011 squad dug themselves a massive hole in April and into the first week of May. This year's team was .500 in April. So now that they've gone on a hot streak - they've won 10 of their last 11 games - instead of trying to just get to .500, they're now 5 games over .500. The 2011 team was never more than 3 games over and it took them until the end of August to reach that point (they did get there in early April, as well).
It's always dangerous to evaluate a team in the midst of a hot streak. However, whatever they do going forward, they've at least gotten themselves into a position where they don't have to be trying to stand on their tiptoes just to get back into the annual AL Central tallest midget contest.And the biggest reason on the pitching side has been Sale. In a season when Sale has been superlative, his performance yesterday was super superlative. And it needed to be. He was matched against fellow lefty phenom Matt Moore. While Moore's numbers superficially looked bad, a lot of his problems could be traced to being let down by his defense. And Moore solved that problem by just not giving his defense all that much to do, as he struck out 10 over 7 innings and gave up only 2 runs. Offensive output like that wouldn't have been out of place on the 2011 White Sox.
The White Sox in 2011 made their only trip to Tropicana Field riding a 4 game losing streak. They proceeded to drop the first 3 games and continue their slide, largely because they scored only 2 runs in those games. They did manage to avoid the sweep in the finale.
On the other hand, the 2012 White Sox went into the Trop riding a 5 game winning streak - matching the longest streak the 2011 club put together. And they were also facing one of the two teams they trail in the potentially-important-come-September Wild Card standings. Beating the depleted Indians this weekend was obviously important but a bigger test of how good this White Sox can be is a team that is actually good.
The offense again largely went AWOL against the Rays. But the offense doesn't need to score bunches of runs for Sale. He hasn't given up more than 3 runs in any start. In his 5 starts this month, he's now surrendered 1 run, 3 runs, 1 run, 0 runs and 1 run. In case anyone is still unclear, Chris Sale is an ace.
It was his win on May 17 that started this current 11 game hot streak. It was his win on May 23 that re-started the streak after the loss to the Twins. And it was his win yesterday that kept the streak going in the tightest game yet and against the toughest opponent yet in this 11 game stretch. That's what aces do. They deliver performances that deliver team wins when they're needed most.
Sale, of course, has gotten help from a few of his friends - most notably, Paul Konerko - who have gotten hot (or stayed hot) in the last couple weeks. Not all those guys are going to keep it up and the White Sox will eventually cool off. And, undoubtedly, some guys on some other teams will heat up and get their teams on winning streaks. This year, though, they'll be the ones chasing the White Sox.