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American League's unpleasant surprises line up for White Sox

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Consecutive series against Yankees, Astros and Royals may help decide which teams' unlikely records are for real

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The remarkable thing about the White Sox' first 35 games is that the schedule wasn't supposed to allow it.

As it stands, they built the American League's best record while getting various houses of horror out of the way.

2013's crap volcano brought darkness over the land for three full seasons, especially in a number of stadiums the Sox were scheduled to visit early. The Sox opened the season at O.co Coliseum, and although they tamed it with a sweep in 2015, fans still had itchiness from the 1-5 record over the previous two seasons, plus some residual effects from the Hudson-Mulder-Zito days. However far back the paranoia reaches, the Sox took three of four.

Next up? The Twins at Target Field. They entered that series 11-19 since 2013, and they came away with a sweep.

The White Sox couldn't quite exorcise their demons at Tropicana Field, as they lost two out of three. Yet that still improved their winning percentage in St. Pete over this period, as they'd lost seven of nine over the previous three seasons.

Then there was Camden Yards, where the Sox batted .300 since 2013 (3-7). That average slipped to .250 after they lost the first two games of the series, but they came back to wrestle the Orioles to a split, and a relative victory.

Now the White Sox arrive at their personal woodchipper: Yankee Stadium.

Star-divide

The White Sox resume play in the Bronx after an off day, and that's a place where they need fully charged batteries. They're just 6-18 at the newest incarnation of Yankee Stadium, which opened in 2009. They're even worse in the dark ages -- just 1-9 since 2013.

The good news? The White Sox figured out how to keep the Yankees' offense in check at home last season, allowing just 13 runs over four games. That's the primary reason they were able to take one game out of four in Yankee Stadium year, avoiding their third straight sweep.

With a five-game lead and the league's best record, nothing about this series resembles a must-win for the White Sox. It would, however, be a nice-to-win series, as it would make the Yankees incredibly useful to the White Sox all week.

The Bombers just finished taking three of four from Kansas City, and in a demoralizing fashion. Lorenzo Cain joined Bo Jackson and George Brett as Royals to enjoy three-homer games in the Bronx ... except they lost. Chris Young and Kris Medlen, who comprise two-fifths of their rotation, hit the disabled list on the same day. Ian Kennedy gave up three homers in defeat in the finale. The Royals have lost 13 of 17 to fall 6½ games behind the White Sox, and now here come the Sox with Chris Sale and Jose Quintana. Using them to get a leg up on the Yankees would force the Royals to have to make up games elsewhere. It'd be a smart idea to keep kicking them while they're down.

Star-divide

The Yankees serve as a good example of the difficulties judging American League teams. Their rosters have looked perilously gaunt before, but Joe Girardi keeps dragging them to winning records. Maybe this is the year their bones finally grind into dust, but with Aroldis Chapman now back from suspension and lining up behind Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, they're going to force the Sox to get a lead in the first six innings, and then their banged-up bullpen to protect it.

The Royals fall into this same group, especially since they're hovering around .500 while dealing with disasters (the rotation, Kendrys Morales, Mike Moustakas on the DL). Regression could favor them, unless this is what regression looks like. The Astros are there, too, as they've seen their playoff probability slashed by more than half (68 percent to 31), but maybe their young talent will be able to cover for a disastrous pitching staff.

And as luck has it, the White Sox play all three of these teams in succession. After this three-game set in New York, they'll return home for three apiece with the Astros and Royals.

All three of these teams made the playoffs in 2015, and while the Yankees weren't quite riding the same upswing as the other two, they were supposed to be competitive all season long. When they're the clubs hanging out in the bottom half of the division, it only makes the league seem that much deeper at this juncture, since they're replaced by teams who are suddenly better than everybody expected -- the Sox chief among them, and the Mariners right behind.

If the standings on May 13 are anywhere near indicative of overall quality, the Sox will be in good shape, as they've already cleared out half their games against the non-Central, first-division clubs. However, if there's a correction in store, there may only be a handful of series against AL teams that are supposed to be winnable at any time. The task at hand for the White Sox is to delay this correction. If they can somehow make it look easy over the next nine days, they may have as much to say about the new American League order as anybody.