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Pushing Through: Now Healthy, Can White Sox Compete for AL Pennant?

Much has been made of the White Sox struggles against teams above .500 in 2021, so it is unreasonable to think this team can win the pennant?
Chicago White Sox

Photo: AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Prior to this past weekend's Crosstown beatdown, the White Sox completed a 14-game stretch against some of the American League's upper echelon teams (NYY, OAK, TB, and TOR). During this 14-game stretch, the Sox were able to go a respectable 7-7. For several months now, as the Sox have sat atop the American League Central, much has been written and said by east coast media mouthpieces and fans that hate the Sox that they were all smoke and mirrors. To date, the Sox are 22-26 against teams with records above .500. This certainly isn't optimal, but is it a death nail for a team with World Series aspirations?

One aspect that has frequently been overlooked in all of this is the fact that this past Friday was the first time all season the Sox had their full complementary roster of everyday players. Think about that. It took until August 27 for the Sox to be at full strength and yet they have overcome the catastrophic injuries to be in first place by double digit games. A tremendous amount of credit needs to be paid to the White Sox complimentary depth pieces (I was told they didn't have any coming into the season) for helping this team not only stay afloat, but essentially lock down an October appearance.

Facing The Challenge

As I mentioned above, to this point the White Sox have not played well against the upper echelon of teams in baseball, compiling a sub .500 record. While this is something to be mindful of, it bares repeating that this team is finally at a point where their true roster is assembled. Going 2-5 against the Astros while Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal, Eloy Jimenez, and Yasmani Grandal all missed time certainly isn't ideal. Having a 1-5 mark against the Yankees with some of the aforementioned stars in the lineup, isn't great either. But, does it mean this team is doomed to fall in October?

I did a little bit of digging to see if there are recent examples of pennant winners who had losing records during the regular season against teams above the .500 mark. While not entirely common, there have been several instances going back to the 2010 season.

Year

Team

W-L

2019

Nationals*

34-43

2016

Indians

34-39

2015

Mets

25-37

2014

Royals

41-44

2010

Giants*

30-38

2010

Rangers

23-30

*Denotes World Series winner

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As you see from the table above, only six times since 2010 has a team finished with a losing mark against teams above .500 and gone on to win the pennant. Those certainly aren't great odds working in the Sox favor, but you're telling me there's a chance? I find it interesting that of the three Giants championships last decade, in no season did they have a winning mark against teams above .500 (finishing at the mark in 2012 and 2014). Even more fascinating is that both World Series participants in 2010 struggled mightily against upper level competition en route to the Fall Classic.

The most recent team to accomplish this feat, the 2019 Washington Nationals, ended up going 7-13 against the three teams they defeated in the National League playoffs (MIL, LA, and STL) to reach the World Series. Looking at the current standings, the most likely path for the Sox would be having to go through Houston and either Tampa/New York/Boston. Against those four teams so far, the Sox are 8-15, not that far off from what we saw with the Nationals. The South Siders still have a three-game set against the Ginger Sawx (Boston) at home in a few weeks, so it will be interesting to see this matchup as the two will be going toe-to-toe at full strength.

The Narrative Will Persist

At this point, the drumbeat that our Sox are unable to matchup against the best the American League has to offer will continue. Even last week on MLB Network Radio, blabbering East Coast loudmouth/idiot Christopher Russo, pressed Steven Stone about the Sox struggles against the elite of the AL. Stone was very quick to point out the depleted lineups the Sox have had until this past weekend, so it is somewhat unfair to judge them given this fact. In typical fashion, Russo had no retort since the Sox don't reside on the East Coast and he is perpetually out-of-town stupid as we like to say.

Am I saying the Sox are going to win the American League pennant? No, because they will certainly have a tough path to get to the Fall Classic, especially considering they are, at the moment, in the #3 seed which would require them to win two series on the road. That's a tall order for any team in October, let alone one that simply hasn't played as well away from 35th/Shields as our Sox have. But, I am by no means discounting their chances.

Over these last 30 games, we will finally get to see what this fully assembled White Sox team looks like. There's going to be some tinkering around the edges with roles and lineup positions, but this is the team we expected to see when they reported to Glendale back in February. It is now on them to go out, execute, and win baseball games. There is no more waiting for this guy or that guy to return. It is all about staying healthy over the next month, so that when the bell rings for American League Division Series on October 7, they are ready to roll.

We caught a glimpse of what this fully assembled lineup can do over the weekend. Yes, I know that was against a team that would struggle to win the Atlantic League, but the length this lineup now has can be put up against any team in the American League. We've seen all season what this pitching staff can do, and they now have the balanced attack on the offensive side to compliment their strength.

The moral of the story is this: don't get bogged down by what has happened up until this point. The team's roster is finally ready to roll, and this is the time to begin judging what they have and to ultimately see how they stack up against the best the American League has to offer.