Manager: Ozzie Guillen General Manager: Kenny Williams
Ballpark (2004 park factors): U.S. Cellular Field
Who's replaced whom?
Scott Podsednik replaced Carlos Lee
Jermaine Dye replaced John Valentin
Tadahito Iguchi replaced Willie Harris (minors)
Carl Everett replaced Magglio Ordonez
A.J. Pierzynski replaced Ben Davis (minors) and Miguel Olivo
Geoff Blum replaced Ross Gload (minors)
Orlando Hernandez replaced Scott Schoeneweis
Dustin Hermanson replaced Billy Koch and a chunk of Jon Adkins
Luis Vizcaino replaced Mike Jackson
Bobby Jenks replaced Shingo Takatsu (released)
1B Paul Konerko
2B Tadahito Iguchi
SS Juan Uribe
3B Joe Crede
C A.J. Pierzynski
RF Jermaine Dye
CF Aaron Rowand
LF Scott Podsednik
DH Carl Everett
S Geoff Blum (IF)
L Timo Perez (OF)
R Pablo Ozuna (IF)
R Chris Widger (C)
L Mark Buehrle
R Jon Garland
R Orlando Hernandez
R Jose Contreras
R Freddy Garcia
R Dustin Hermanson
L Neal Cotts
R Cliff Politte
L Damaso Marte
R Luis Vizcaino
R Bobby Jenks
R Jon Adkins
DL: R Frank Thomas (DH)
L Scott Podsednik (LF)
R Tadahito Iguchi (2B)
S Carl Everett (DH)
R Paul Konerko (1B)
L A.J. Pierzynski (C)
R Jermaine Dye (RF)
R Aaron Rowand (CF)
R Joe Crede (3B)
R Juan Uribe (SS)
The White Sox remain the one American League team the Yankees have yet to face this year and, in away, that might be to the Bombers' benefit. While the Yankees' rotation is in a shambles, the team as a whole has been playing its best baseball since the end of June, thanks in large part to the resurrection of Jason Giambi, the benching of Tony Womack (the latter of which has seen a frightening reversal in the past couple of weeks), and the surprising performance of replacement starters Aaron Small, Shawn Chacon and, compared to the spot starters who preceded him, Al Leiter.
Conversely, the White Sox have slowed ever so slightly from the torrid pace they set through the season's first three months. At the end of June, the White Sox boasted a 53-24 record (.688). Since then, they've played .594 ball (19-13), still outstanding, but more within the realm of the conquerable, and more in line with the team's expected level of play according to their Pythagorean winning percentage (and even .600).
The White Sox have won just four of ten series since traveling to Oakland on July 1, splitting one (Red Sox), and dropping five others, including one each to the Royals and Tigers and losing 5 of 6 to those surging A's. What has kept their record so sparkling is that the with the exception of a just-completed 2-1 series win at home against the Mariners, the White Sox have swept the four series they've won over that period, including four-game sets against the Indians and Orioles.
Coming into tonight's game, the Chisox are a mere 4-3 in August against the M's and Blue Jays (to the Yankees 3-3 against the Indians and Jays). What's more, the Yankees will miss the southsiders' two best pitchers, ace Mark Buehrle and major league wins leader Jon Garland.
Make no mistake about it, the reason the White Sox have the best record in baseball, and have throughout the season, is pitching. Their pitching staff's 3.62 ERA is tops in the American League, while their bullpen has contributed a sparkling 3.06 ERA, which includes the 28 2/3 innings of 5.97 ERA they received from the since-released Shingo Takatsu (look for him to join the waver-wire reunion in Columbus). Absent Takatsu, the worst ERA among the seven men in the Sox pen is Luis Vizcaino's 3.81.
If the bullpen has a fault, it's the base on balls. Once-dominant set-up man and failed closer (and ill-considered Enrique Wilson trade bait) Damaso Marte and rookie fireballer Bobby Jenks have combined to walk 32 men in 47 1/3 innings. Vizcaino and lefty Neal Cotts have combined to walk another 43 in 97 1/3 (4.67 BB/9 for those four men combined). Cotts, however, has corrected for his free passes by allowing just 27 hits in 45 1/3 innings, yielding a 1.04 WHIP that helps explain his tidy 2.18 ERA. Cotts' performance, along with more impressive numbers from Cliff Politte (1.88 ERA, 0.85 WHP) and closer Dustin Hermanson (1.64 ERA, 1.11 ERA), has given the White Sox an unexpectedly dominant Big Three, that helps to explain the degree to which the Sox have exceeded their Pythagorean expectations thus far (that explanation, by the way, can be found in my contribution to the upcoming Baseball Prospectus book, Mind Game, about those other Sox).
When we Toasters made our preseason predictions back in March, Scott Long (a White Sox fan) and myself were the only two who thought the Sox would finish as high as second, both of us pointing to the starting rotation as a primary reason. The one-two punch of Mark Buehrle and Freddy Garcia, backed up by the ever-wily El Duque and the emerging Jon Garland, with Jose Contreras's stuff and Brandon McCarthy's future vying for the fifth spot was just too formidable in a league bereft of impressive starting rotations for either Scott or myself to list the Sox below their 2004 finish.
Now, I don't know about Mr. Long, but I did not expect Garland to go 16-5 with a 3.29 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP through early August. Nor did I fully expect Mark Buehrle to turn in what just might turn out to be his finest season (13-4, 2.79 ERA, 1.13 WHIP).
Buehrle, Garland, and Freddy Garcia, (26, 25 and 28 years old respectively), give the White Sox a fantastic triumvirate of young pitchers that should be entered into the conversation with those of the Cubs (Prior-24, Zambrano-24, Wood-28) and A's (Zito-27, Harden-23, Haren-24).
Backing them up are the two departed Cuban Yankee hurlers, Hernandez and Contreras, who are up to their usual tricks. Contreras (6-6, 4.41 ERA, 1.35 WHIP) has improved in Chicago, but still fails to dominate to the degree that his stuff would suggest he can, making up for an excellent opponent's batting average by walking 4.13 men per nine innings. El Duque, meanwhile, has spent his requisite time on the disabled list, making just 15 starts thus far, averaging fewer than six innings per start, but outfoxing his ugly 1.49 WHIP to post a tolerable 4.69 ERA and an 8-4 record.
The Yankees will see those two men in the next two nights, followed by Garcia. Tonight El Duque will pull his Satchel Page routine against Mike Mussina, who has looked in desperate need of same of late. Expect the bullpens to play a large part in this one.