On June 9th, the Chicago White Sox weren’t on anyone’s radar. The team was 24-33, 9 1/2 games behind Minnesota in the AL Central.
How fast times have changed.
After Sunday’s 15-5 blowout win over Kansas City, the White Sox find themselves in first place, a half game in front of Detroit. The win was Chicago’s eighth straight, giving the White Sox a 25-5 record over their last 30 games.
“It’s a shock how quickly we did it,” White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. “I’ve never seen a turnaround like this as far as executing and things turning on a dime. I don’t think we saw this coming.”
When Chicago (49-38) began a homestand on June 1, it was billed as its last chance to get things right. Then they went out and lost two of three each to Texas and Cleveland.
“How come when we were going bad, there were 40 people here saying: ‘Ozzie, why aren’t you getting along with (general manager) Kenny (Williams)? What’s wrong with your team?’”
Guillen was on the hot seat. Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski were rumored to be on the trading block.
“It’s a testament to the 25 guys and the guys called up that never stopped believing even when the media was about ready to rip the whole team apart,” outfielder Juan Pierre said. “It’s good to be in first, but I want to be in first after the second half of the season.”
The White Sox persevered, winning two of three from the Tigers, then 11 straight from June 15-26. They stumbled briefly at Kansas City before taking a series at Texas, then sweeping the Los Angeles Angels and Royals at home.
“In 162 games, one month you can be bad, one month you can be good, another month you can be OK,” Guillen said. “It’s how you handle it, and we handled it very well. We stuck together.”
The White Sox altered their lineup this season, hoping that less power and more base hits would suffice. They elected not to resign free agent Jim Thome (traded to the Dodgers near the end of last season) and Jermaine Dye, who combined for 50 home runs in 2009.
They were also betting on a solid pitching staff to get them through. But the offense and starting pitching struggled early in the year.
“People were wrong about how we built this club,” Guillen said. “A good number (of players) could hit with power, but we didn’t want to combine strikeouts with power. The main thing now is we have clutch hitting, we get men on base and run the bases right.
“We knew we had a bunch of good hitters up and down the lineup, and it has started to come out now. I think when all is said and done, we’ll have the kind of team we thought we’d have in spring training.”
Chicago hasn’t had to worry about its slugging lately. The White Sox are tied for fifth in the majors with 100 home runs. They hit five on Sunday, four in the third inning to tie a franchise record. Chicago has slugged 31 homers in its last 17 games at home at homer-friendly U.S. Cellular Field.
Outfielder Carlos Quentin has been on fire. He had three multi-home run games during a 7-0 homestand. Quentin (19 HR) has homered in 11 of his last 16 games, including six homers to go with 11 RBIs during the homestand.
“I’m fortunate to get some good pitches to hit and take some good swings and help the team win,” Quentin said. “I stay with an approach every time and trust it and good things have happened.”
Alex Rios, who was acquired in a trade with Toronto last season, leads the team with a .305 average. Konerko has 20 home runs and 63 RBIs to top the club.
The starting pitching has turned around with a 2.40 ERA in the last 31 games. And the bullpen has a 2.36 ERA in the last 26 contests. Gavin Floyd is 3-1 with a 1.07 ERA in his last seven starts.
Chicago took a hit when starter Jake Peavy suffered a detached latissimus dorsi muscle in his back last week. He was scheduled for season-ending surgery this week.
But the White Sox keep cruising along, hoping to continue their hot play when the second half begins after the All-Star break.
“We’re in a great position to do something in the second half,” Konerko said. “I think before the season if you had said we’d be right where we’re at, I would say that makes sense give or take a couple games, but the way we got here, it’s been crazy. I’ve never seen a turnaround like this.”
As for Pierzynski, it looks like he’s sticking around.
“I always said, if we could just get close, we’d be OK,” Pierzynski said. “We have great guys on this team, and everyone gets along.”
Copyright © 2010 Bob Hurst. All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Hurst Sports Media.