The White Sox haven’t even played a game yet — they’ll be one of the last teams to emerge from the All-Star break due to West Coast start times -- and yet they’ve already resolved a couple mysteries. Justin Morneau and Carson Fulmer are set to join the team in Anaheim, bringing an end to the "when" questions that have followed them.
There are plenty more questions in store as the White Sox enter a second half over .500 for once, and in a position to keep building. Here’s a smattering, and in some order of their potential resolutions.
Will the White Sox add?
The White Sox start the second half in a somewhat delicate state. They’re seven games back of the Indians in the Central, and 4½ games back of the Red Sox for the second wild card spot with the Astros and Tigers in between. We’ve seen a lot more in-season fluctuation this year, so neither of these margins are insurmountable.
The Red Sox tampered with the trade-deadline seal by trading top pitching prospect Anderson Espinoza to San Diego for Drew Pomeranz, which should address one of Boston’s chief weaknesses. That doesn’t lock up a postseason spot, but it could change the calculus if the White Sox soil themselves out of the gate. It seems like the front office is poised to add, but if the White Sox open the second half with six straight losses ... what might be the point?
Can Jose Abreu correct himself?
As I wrote on Thursday, the White Sox fared surprisingly well over 88 games despite Abreu looking mortal. I don’t think they’re a great bet to do it again, especially with Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie showing extremely streaky tendencies. The good news? If enough things break right, Abreu probably doesn't need to be a 30-homer guy this year, as the lineup is deeper and the speed in front of him makes doubles a worthwhile and fulfilling pursuit.
Does Carlos Rodon have a similar second wind?
Rodon was a disappointment over the first half for reasons both in his control (command, velocity management) and outside it (catchers, defense). He’s better than he’s shown, assuming the sprained wrist brings no lingering effects beyond a missed start or two.
The restoration of Miguel Gonzalez and the settling of James Shields make this question a little less pressing, but Rodon was in the original full-season plans, so if all three pitchers falter over the second half, Rodon’s will hurt the most.
Will Tim Anderson be solved?
If you knew nothing about Anderson besides his line (.304/.310/.488) and plate-discipline numbers (one walk, 37 strikeouts over 128 plate appearances), you’d assume the White Sox already extracted his best baseball out of him, and there’s nothing but pain around the bend.
That’s probably still the safer bet. Anderson looks different and plays with confidence, but baseball is littered with guys who could only outrun convention for so long, so the Sox should steel themselves for a downturn.
Thankfully, the combination of Anderson’s early success, surprisingly sound defense and long-term profile allow us to be mindless about it. The Sox aren’t sacrificing defense for offense and he’s always going to be somebody who hits his way on base, so the Sox don’t seem to be endangering Anderson to anything in particular with this early exposure. That being the case, I’m happy to enjoy the multi-hit games and worry about the first prolonged slump when it shows up.
What’s Robin Ventura’s future?
Ventura has taken himself off the hot seat, but his recovery is more of the jobless variety. He hasn’t done anything particularly objectionable, but thanks to injuries, the roster is divided between major-league players and seat-fillers. It's harder than ever to make bad calls, and based on the workloads of David Robertson, Nate Jones and Zach Duke, he’s trying his best to avoid putting guys in positions to fail. That’s a bit of a confidence-booster, but it’s not indicative of what he might actually do when he’s back to having choices.
If the White Sox make a true postseason push, I’d assume he’s back. But if the Sox finish with a win total in the low 80s, I don’t have much of a gauge. History says to assume the status quo, but Ventura wasn’t a traditional choice, and he hasn’t made traditional choices himself.
Will Chris Sale win the Cy Young?
The Condor has circled pitching’s highest honor over his first four years as a starter, finishing sixth, fifth, third and fourth. This time, he’s the odds-on favorite, leading the American League in wins (14) and innings (125) while possessing the longest track record of the plausible candidates. According to Bovada:
- Chris Sale 4/5
- Danny Salazar 9/4
- Aaron Sanchez 12/1
- Steven Wright 12/1
- Cole Hamels 16/1
- Chris Tillman 16/1
- Rick Porcello 25/1
- Masahiro Tanaka 25/1
- JA Happ 33/1
Yet his peripherals have never been sketchier. His 3.74 FIP is easily a career high at this point, as the homers are bunching up while the strikeouts remain merely decent. The idea has been that Sale is pacing himself over the course of the whole season, and since the White Sox have won 14 of his 18 starts, his peripherals have been the only thing harmed by his new approach to date. Now is when it’ll be put to the test.
There is a remote possibility that Sale could finish runner-up in Cy Young voting ... to Jose Quintana. Poor Jose has an uphill climb due to an inferior record and strikeout total, but Quintana has a better ERA (3.21) while throwing nearly as many innings, giving him a better WAR as well (2.8 to 2.7).
I’d root that scenario, especially since Quintana isn’t even on the betting board. Then again, that’s not much of a surprise considering the White Sox don’t even sell his jersey online.