Sox Midseason Report: Standout Stars Despite Struggling Team
Wasn’t first baseman Jose Abreu supposed to need time to adjust to the big leagues? Apparently not. The 27 year old Cuban rookie was a $68 million exclamation point (or question mark, depending on who you asked) after signing that six-year deal despite never playing a game in the United States.
Turns out the exclamation point was more accurate. Abreu’s breakout campaign has been the story of this Sox season. At 23 HR, 61 RBI, and a .615 slugging percentage through his first 65 games, his season ranks as one of the best by a rookie all time. He’s on pace to total well over 40 HR and 110 RBI.
Abreu has carried the lineup but a few others have also held their own. Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez got off to hot starts up the middle and Ramirez (.297 average, 7 HR, 13 steals) has remained hot as probably the best shortstop in the league. Speedster Adam Eaton (.284 AVG, .352 OBP) has been the most productive of the Sox’ non-Abreu offseason acquisitions. The Sox rank fifth in the AL in runs scored.
That’s not to say this Sox squad doesn’t have holes in the lineup. Adam Dunn (.229 AVG, 12 HR) continues to be the walk-homer-or-strikeout guy he’s become, while Alejandro De Aza (.222 AVG, .294 OBP) probably wouldn’t be starting on a better team. Tyler Flowers is batting .164 since his hot start ended May 4.
The bench is just plain bad, although it includes the legendary Paul Konerko (.217 AVG, 4 HR). Konerko’s relegation to part time status hasn’t gone so well in his age 38 season. Hopefully he’s got a hot streak or two left in the bat and gets the playing time to show it. Paulie deserves a better farewell tour than this.
The pitching side of things is where the Sox have struggled. Chris Sale (6-1, 2.27 ERA) has been as good as advertised as one of only a few true aces in the league. But after Jose Quintana the rotation gets shaky. John Danks (4.34 ERA) hasn’t been the pitcher he once was, Hector Noesi is a short term fix, and Andre Rienzo and Erik Johnson have looked lost all year.
And then there’s the bullpen, completely reinvented from last season. Ronald Belisario is not a good closer. The young group in there is highly unproven and not being handed the lead often enough.
So there’s the season in a nutshell. Plenty of runs being scored on both sides. This team wasn’t expected to contend for much this season, but in a supposedly wide open division, some fans always think the Sox are just on the brink of catching Detroit for first place.
Sure enough on June 11 the 33-33 Sox beat the Tigers for a second game in a row, putting them just 2.5 games behind them. But a 3-10 run since then has buried them in last place in what was supposed to be one of the softer divisions in the league.
The Sox are trying to retool and get younger on the fly while remaining competitive, which isn’t a very easy task. It’s a quicker process than what the crosstown Cubs are trying to do but results may not be as promising. The Sox’ strategy does give them a higher probability of having a competitive team in each given year, though, which explains how they were so close to first place just two weeks ago.
The playoffs look unlikely for the South Siders this season, but GM Rick Hahn’s rebuilding plan seems to be coming together. The team has reinvented its scouting and player development efforts internationally and for the first time in over a decade, there is legitimate talent in the farm system like ultimate leadoff guy Micah Johnson in AAA.
That’s not to say they’ve hit on all their acquisitions. Hahn traded last year’s closer, promising young Addison Reed, for third baseman Matt Davidson, who projects as an above average third baseman with decent power and should have been starting in the Majors right now. But Davidson’s stuck in AAA Charlotte batting .196.
For the time being the Sox will continue to revolve around their current stars, those being Sale and Abreu now. This season also features great play from Ramirez and the farewell tour of one of the greatest to ever put on the Sox uniform, Konerko. Sale starts are a must-see. The extensively-renovated US Cellular Field has something for everyone and almost every preference; from bleachers to premium clubs to churros to Chicago dogs on gluten free buns. Make sure to get out to the Cell this summer!
Photo Source: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images