First Pitch: It's now or never for White Sox

First Pitch: It's now or never for White Sox

Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2010
8:14 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

You read that headline right, from the Say No More Office of the Department of Utter Obviousness comes the news you most certainly have to know if youre a Chicago White Sox fanthis midweek series vs. the first-place Minnesota Twins is a must-win set of games.

For those holding out hope that merely winning the three-game series is enough, sorry to pop your bubble. If the White Sox are to have any chance at the playoffs whatsoever, they have to sweep Minnesotaand even if that was to happen, only once since the inception of the wild card has a team come from as far back as three games down this late to make the playoffs.

And what team, you might ask, came from three down this late to make the playoffs? The very Twins team the White Sox face tonight, a year agoand it took a Game 163 for them to qualify.

If the White Sox are hoping for a repeat of the 2008 collapse that helped to catapult them to a division crown, courtesy of that unforgettable Blackout Game 163, forget it. Twins collapses are a once-a-century event. The schedule does the Chisox no favors, either; the White Soxs remaining opponents have a .508 winning percentage, Minnesotas are .479. And since 2001, the White Sox are 33-61 vs. the Twins and just 6-21 since 2008. Ugh.

In 2010s second half, the Twins have done nothing but menace the White Sox. Whats especially aggravating about this, to White Sox fans and, presumably, the teams brass, is that the Twins arent the New York Yankees or Boston Red Soxthey are the team Chicago itself has patterned itself after, with a movement away from sheer power and more toward fundamentals on offense and defense.

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen has nothing but praise for the Twins, and it must pain him that Minnesota is doing Ozzieball better than his own White Sox can. When asked if theres anything he dislikes about the Twins, he has had no answer, all summer long.

And for all the renewed dedication to fundamentals the White Sox have employed this season, the fact remains, when players join the White Sox, the White Sox conform to them (with Manny Ramirez being only the most wild and recent example). When players come to the Twins, they adapt to the Minnesota way, no questions asked or exceptions tolerated.

Heres a random, if apt, example. When I arrived at Target Field some two months ago after the All-Star break, on the heels of the White Sox streaking into first place and the Twins fairly languishing in third, can you imagine what I saw? Minnesota pitchers were doing defensive drills, covering first base and then whirling into position to throw home for an out.

No, this wasnt a bunch of high-schoolers or recent draftees going through the motions on Target Field, but the Twins pitchers themselves. After that, there was a team meeting, designed to set the tone for a second-half push.

Was either of those items essential to Minnesotas resurgence? Do professionals need to be rah-rahed or drilled into excellence? Perhaps notthat is certainly the White Sox approach.

But one team seemingly wins the AL Central at will; the other enters play tonight on the outside looking in, by six chunky games.

Draw your own conclusions.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.coms White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox information.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Chris Sale returns to Chicago

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Chris Sale returns to Chicago

In this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, Mark Carman (WGN Radio), Chris Hine (Chicago Tribune) and Seth Gruen (Bleacher Report) join Mark Schanowski on the panel.

Chris Sale is back in town. Do the White Sox miss their old ace?

Meanwhile, Jake Arrieta’s agent defends his client’s velocity drop. Does he have a point?

Plus LeBron James talks about his legacy, Tiger Woods’ fall from grace continues and the panel remembers legendary sportswriter Frank Deford.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Is the White Sox run differential a sign of better things to come?

Is the White Sox run differential a sign of better things to come?

From a record standpoint, the White Sox are maybe slightly above where most expected them to be this season.

From a run differential standpoint, the White Sox are way above any expectation.

After Monday’s 5-4 win against the Red Sox, the White Sox improved to 24-26 on the season. Impressively, the Sox have a plus-28 run differential, which is good for third-best in the American League.

The two AL teams higher than the White Sox in the category are both first-place teams. Houston is 36-16 with a whopping plus-74 differential while the Yankees are 29-19 and come in at plus-57.

The White Sox have the best run differential in the AL Central. The division-leading Twins (26-21) actually have a negative run differential at minus-7. The Twins are one of two teams with a negative run differential and a winning record (Baltimore is 26-23 with a minus-6 differential).

There are 15 teams in Major League Baseball with positive run differentials and the White Sox are the only team in that group more than one game under .500.

So what does that mean? Well, for one it could be a positive sign that the White Sox are actually a better team than their record. More plainly, it means the White Sox are winning games by bigger margins than they are losing them.

Monday’s win improved the White Sox record in one-run games to 5-7. The Sox are also 2-4 in two-run games and 3-5 in three-run games. That's a 10-16 mark in games decided by three runs or less. Meanwhile, in games decided by four runs or more the White Sox are 14-10.

What’s even stranger about the lack of success in close games is that the White Sox have the fourth best ERA among relievers in MLB.

May isn’t quite over yet so things can still even out in one direction or another, but these are certainly some odd numbers.