The White Sox close out the first half of the season with a series against Baltimore that has all the ingredients of a trap:
Records: The White Sox are 51-35; the Orioles have the AL’s worst record at 28-58.
Standings: The Sox lead the AL Central by 7½ games over Cleveland, which just snapped a nine-game losing streak against Kansas City Thursday night to avoid falling below .500.
Ballpark: Camden Yards is an underrated terrordome for the White Sox, who are 9-18 in Baltmore since the 2012 season. You could say they find it hard to live there.
By and large, I think the concept of a “trap series” is a results-based explanation for a disappointing cluster of three games. The Orioles closed out June by sweeping the Astros in Houston, so there’s no reason to take them lightly. Besides, the White Sox are 35-11 against below-.500 teams. They’ve gotten to where they are by treating struggling teams as opportunities. If this is the start of a White Sox decade, the foundation will be built atop the bones of bums.
A series loss would just feel trap-py because such a series invites the White Sox to cruise into the All-Star break in an ideal position. That automatically sets my suspicions ablaze, because nothing comes easy for the White Sox. Hell, they built a durable marketing campaign by framing their struggle to succeed as “grinding,” when there isn’t any inherent virtue in making winning look difficult.
Yet here they are. Over at FanGraphs, Dan Szymborski updated his ZiPS projections so the first-half results inform the second-half forecast, and they present no threat to the White Sox. At 92-70, they’re the only AL Central team projected to finish above .500. Actually, they’re the only team to finish better than five games under .500.
Losing Eloy Jiménez before the season and Luis Robert early in it were massive blows to the White Sox, but they’ve also received some good fortune, as none of the other teams in the division have put much pressure on them. I’m as sad as anyone that the celebration of Yermínalia has ended with his fall back to earth and subsequent demotion to the minors, but he did provide some fun early-season heroics when Chicago had lost two very talented young players. As my colleague Ben Clemens wrote last month, the White Sox still need to find a Nick Madrigal replacement, but winning the division doesn’t seem like a difficult challenge.
Cleveland was only two games out in late June — well ahead of where I expected the team to be at this point in the season, as losing basically the entire rotation in the span of a few weeks was a huge hit — and has been lucky to lose only two additional games in the standings during a seven-game skid that’s still active. Zach Plesac is scheduled to return on Thursday, which is something, at least. Even with a healthy rotation, it would be hard to make up ground against the White Sox with half the lineup very predictably struggling.
From Dan’s ZiPS to God’s ears. It’s hard to imagine a team with an outfield so reliant on minor-league signings running away with a division, but it’s more embraceable if Jiménez enjoys a smooth rehab stint and the White Sox add at the deadline. Winning two of three in Baltimore remains a recommended course of action in the interim.
The White Sox are sending three pitchers to the All-Star Game, and Lucas Giolito isn’t one of them. A 2 WAR season isn’t what anybody expected, but nobody expected Major League Baseball to change the rules on grip-enhancing substances midway through. It’s not the secret to his entire success, but it forces him to execute better than he’s previously needed to.
Watching Lance Lynn pitch every five days, I’m struck by how he makes pitching look easy and difficult at the same time. He sweats, grunts and curses his way through six innings, but he’s usually allowing just one or two runs despite throwing mostly fastballs. The theme that unites the duality is a lack of guise, and that makes him beloved. That, and an All-Star first half.
Zach Thompson ended up on the other side of the 40-man roster with the White Sox a few years ago, and he ran into a wall at Charlotte in 2019 before the pandemic wiped away the 2020 season. His career could have been a victim of timing, so it’s cool seeing him make surprising waves as a starter with the Marlins on the strength of an exploding cutter.
- Cleveland Indians in process of sending protest over no-hitter to MLB headquarters — Cleveland Plain-Dealer
You know things are going poorly when you’re protesting scoring decisions during a nine-game losing streak to avoid a third straight no-hit game from your offense.
While a lot has been made of which pitchers will struggle after MLB’s crackdown on foreign substances, I hadn’t given much thought to the inverse: Which hitters stand to benefit more than others? Rob Arthur has an idea:
Pitchers who live by their changeups and sliders may not be hit hard by having to let go of their Spider Tack. Pitchers who thrive on high-spin fastballs and mirrored curves may have trouble in the post-sticky stuff era. On the opposite side of the battle, the hitters that gain in this new era won’t be randomly selected. Those that struggled with movement will take off. Those that thrived on the high-fastball may have a more difficult time by comparison, simply because the value of their strength will be diminished compared to the rest of the league.
We might not have heard the last of Yermín Mercedes after all.
(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire)