Sunday, June 27, 2010

What Should We Take Away from the White Sox Interleague Dominance?

The White Sox finally had their 11 game winning streak broken today at the hands of the hated cross-town rival Cubs, but they also finished up their interleague schedule for 2010. They finished the season an impressive 15-3, only 1 game shy of the all-time interleague record. Also, their interleague dominance this year helped move them from a disappointing season and definite trade deadline seller to right in the heart of the AL Central title race.

So what should we take away from this? I think this season can finish 1 of 2 ways for the White Sox, and there is an interesting precedent that was set for one of the scenarios just a few years ago...

First, let's look at the negative side of this. Before Interleague play started on May 21, the White Sox were in sorry shape, stuck in 4th place with a 16-24 record, 7.5 games back, and seen as a dysfunctional team that had a collection of random disappointing players and a manger and GM that didn't get along. Winning helps solve a lot of these problems, and as mentioned above, they got a lot of wins thanks to interleague play over the past month. The big question is can the winning continue? Thanks to the NL being absolutely awful, the White Sox benefited from a very easy schedule over the past month. They took 2/3 from Florida at home (35-40), 4/6 vs the Cubs (33-42), and swept Pittsburgh (25-49), Washington (33-43), and Atlanta (44-32). They also only went 8-8 against AL teams between the Florida and first Cubs series. You can make the argument that Atlanta was the only really good NL team they faced this year, and they were actually pretty hot themselves when they ran into the Sox buzzsaw. The Sox are now 39-35 and only 1.5 games out of first, but we have to keep in mind that they are 24-32 against the AL, who they will now have to face for their remaining 88 games this year. If they continue their vs.-AL pace for the rest of the season, they'll only finish 77-85 this year.

But....remember how I mentioned above that they were 1 game short of the best interleague record ever? Well, one team that holds that record is none other than the 2006 Twins. In 2006, before interleague play started, the Twins were a very similar 17-24, sitting in 4th place and 10.5 games behind the Tigers, who, along with the White Sox, had an incredible start to the season. The Twins went 16-2 in interleague play and (with some AL games mixed in between as well) were 45-35 by the time interleague play ended on July 2nd. Unlike the White Sox this year, the Twins incredible turn around didn't put them in division contention. They only picked up a half game on Detroit during that stretch. The rules were a little different though. On July 2nd, 2006, Detroit and Chicago had the 2 best records in the majors and both teams had a much better winning percentage than anyone currently in the majors has in 2010. The Twins didn't cool off when AL play resumed though. The momentum that they gained in interleague play carried them through July, August, and September, and they were eventually able to steal away the AL Central title from a fading Detroit on the last day of the season.

So, will the White Sox come back to reality when they face the AL or will they keep their momentum going like the 2006 Twins? One thing in the White Sox favor is that the 2010 Twins and Tigers aren't nearly as good as the 2006 Tigers and White Sox, so they don't need to have the kind of final 3 months that the Twins had to win the division. One piece of relief for Twins fans if the 2nd analogy holds up is that the 2006 Twins were swept in the ALDS while the Tigers, who blew the division, went all the way to the World Series as the Wild Card. But, it's also highly unlikely that the wild card will come from the AL Central this year. And the 2010 Tigers? If they take on the 2006 White Sox role, they should prepare to be disappointed....and they don't even have the fact that they are the defending World Series champs to fall back on...

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