It's June 14 and the White Sox are in first place. Things are going pretty well on the South Side despite a slew of injuries to key performers. This team has found a way to piece things together and continue their winning ways. Outside of Chicago, and even to a lesser extent locally, there are still people who believe the White Sox are all smoke and mirrors. The same old narratives about them not really being that good because they reside in the American League Central have persisted.
The team will be tested this week as they play seven games against two of the American League's top contenders. The defending American League Champion, Tampa Bay Rays, come to 35th/Shields tonight to begin a three-game set that features the junior circuit's top two teams by record. Following a Wednesday afternoon matinee, our boys will board their charter and head down to Houston (a city that will always hold a place near and dear to the heart of any White Sox fan old enough to remember what happened on that glorious October night in 2005).
Some will view this as a statement week for the White Sox because of the stiff competition against two teams the South Siders will potentially be vying for American League supremacy against in a few months. Truth be told, this is simply a tough week in the first half of a long baseball season. There will be too many declarative statements made by members of the media and on some miserable social networking sites based upon the results of these seven games. I'm here to tell you that you should take a deep breath, and regardless of this week's outcome it really doesn't have that much bearing on the ultimate fate of the 2021 White Sox season.
Our White Sox are 41-24 and in the best position to win a division title since that heartbreaking season of 2012. If we are being honest, they've done this on the strength of some high-quality slaying through the season's first two and a half months. The White Sox are 30-8 against teams below .500 to this point in the season, contrasting that with an 11-16 record against teams above the .500 mark.
Have they played great baseball against upper-echelon teams to this point? Certainly not, but aside from the Patriot's Day drubbing at the hands of the Red Sox and the Saturday afternoon against Gerrit Cole and the New York Yankees, they have played highly competitive baseball against the league's top teams. Ultimately, baseball is a results-driven industry and they haven't gotten the job done against these teams, yet.
This is a major reason for the narratives that surround the White Sox from out-of-towners who simply don't believe in what this team is to this point. I know it's cliche, but this is still a young team and sometimes it does take some time for a team to "learn how to win." I don't completely dismiss this statement the way many others do, but there are countless examples in recent history of teams that went through extended rebuilding periods that took a little bit of time before they were able to consistently beat powerhouse teams in their league.
If the White Sox are to hold the Commissioner's trophy again this season or in seasons to come, they will have to win high-tension games against top-level opponents similar to what they see this week. But again, I want to caution people not to read too much into the results of this week's games either way. If the White Sox go 5-2 or 4-3, it doesn't declare anything more than if their record is the inverse. It's still June folks, this team is not even close to full strength and there are 90-plus games to go.
Since departing social media, there are a lot of things that I really don't miss. One such thing will be on full display this week: the age-old, tired debate about analytics in the game of baseball. The Tampa Bay Rays and Houston Astros are two of the most data-savvy organizations in the sport, and they have the success to back up their methods in recent history.
Many people on social media platforms will use the seven games this week to make declarative statements about the organizations involved. If the White Sox have a strong week with a winning record, social media will be filled with "see analytics don't mean anything" posts and commentary about how the Sox were right to go old-school in bringing back Tony La Russa. Conversely, if the White Sox falter we will see a slew of "the Sox are simply too far behind these other organizations to be competitive" posts and declarations that La Russa was outclassed by new-age, smarter organizations. Both are simply nonsense if we are being completely honest.
As a baseball fan, you can choose to make snippy remarks about how things like spin rates, launch angles, fastball carry, and exit velocities don't matter. You're wrong, but you can still make those statements. If you choose to willingly not grow your knowledge base about this beautiful game and the information that literally EVERY front office uses when it comes to roster construction decisions, have at it.
At the same time, there is undoubtedly a growing disregard for the human element in this game and having "feel" during the course of a baseball game. I think I'm probably a little more of an analytics/data-driven fan at this point (I'm simply someone that is continually trying to learn something new about this game), but even I had major issues with what Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash did in the World Series last year pulling Blake Snell. This was a perfect example of people being too reliant upon data; it was not, however, proof that data is overrated in baseball.
The divide between fans and observers of this game with regards to new statistics and data is growing wider by the day. With this in mind, I'm sure this week's social media content will be filled with over-arching statements about its relevance and place in the game. Boy, am I glad I won't be around to see this.
This week promises to be an entertaining week of baseball for us as White Sox fans, if nothing else. Our boys are playing well and they will be going up against two quality opponents that they may have to go through in October if they are to reach their ultimate goal. Naturally, I want them to go 7-0 but I recognize that if it doesn't happen it really won't be the end of the world. There is still a ton of baseball to be played, and I can't wait to see how the White Sox perform this week.