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Chicago: City of Big Shoulders, Sometimes With Slight Twinges in Them

They came, as Nelson Algren wrote, a bunch of derelicts with dollar signs for eyes, looking for the first habitable place that hadn’t yet built a jail. When they found that place, on the southern tip of a great water, which lipped the beaches in balmy times and lashed them with fury under whippet winds, they stayed, and grew big and blocky and strong, working harder at anything but work itself that it paid off in the end, as they turned the pigs and corn of the slate-flat prairies into the commodities that paid for the all-night cigar-lit booze and poker sessions while the beat cop, pockets stuffed with wads of greenbacks, went off to knock around some drunk anarchist bohunk, and as they all sat around the table peering at each other with filmy eyes under low-slung hats, ash-covered winnings in heaps in front of them, a snaky ambition curled up like smoke from the ends of chewed up stogies, and they all took out their notebooks and wrote with one hand and drank with the other and it was grand, until it dawned on them, a slow sunrise glinting dully off the Hancock, that they could all play poker like Zahhak and whore like Mike Fink and write like Bukowski, never mind he’s from the coast. So they went into standup.

Luckily for them, they have the White Sox to root for.

This is a team perpetually balanced between risk and comedy, and so far in 2012 the risk’s returns have been lordly. From an offseason even more perplexing to the fandom than that of the Indians—in which they dumped their closer and two-thirds of their outfield and let a quality starter walk into free agency, while signing so many organizational soldiers they could create, and bury, their own terra cotta army of them—they have surged into first place at the All-Star break, putting up a run differential only slightly south of the Yankees and Rangers. Let’s take a peek at how it has come to be so.

Will regression stalk the lineup? Here’s the team, with the player’s average RC/G over the past three years, followed by their 2012 RC/G and then, to see who’s hot and cold, their OPS over the past 28 days.

RC/G 09-11 RC/G 12 OPS28 Pos Player
4.1 6.4 926 C Pierzidjfbh
7.4 7.8 639 1B Konerko
4.2 3.6 668 2B Beckham
4.4 3.2 898 SS Ramirez
8.0 10.1 990 3B Youkilis
4.3 4.1 675 LF Viciedo
7.0 5.5 599 CF DeAza
3.7 6.3 1044 RF Rios
6.0 6.6 685 DH Dunn

Youkilis’s numbers are those with the White Sox only. DeAza’s gaudy 7.0 prior to this season were accumulated in 230 PAs. The team began the season with black holes in place of offense at 2B, 3B and SS; Konerko and Dunn’s blazing starts offset that somewhat. Now that the hot bats have cooled, the others are climbing to some more believable levels. The White Sox averaged 3.9 R/G in April, 5.4 in May and 4.9 in June & July. I’d guess they’ll continue to score plenty of runs.

What’s up in the RATBOP world? Here are their starters:

RATBOP Pitcher Starts
1613 Peavy 17
1609 Sale 15
1561 Quintana 8
1437 Floyd 17
1402 Danks 9
1346 Humber 12
1258 Axelrod 5

(For the uninitiated, those 1600 RATBOPs are All-Star caliber; 1500s are very good, mid 1400s are league average.)

Danks, with a shoulder strain, should be back soon, and Humber is rehabbing his slight elbow strain at Charlotte; he really only went on the DL, I think, because he was pitching poorly and they wanted to see what Axelrod could do after posting a 3.18 ERA with 66 strikeouts in 68 innings in AAA.

This is where the White Sox have to be nervous. Peavy, after his next start, will have thrown more pitches than in any season since 2008. Sale is in his first year as a starter, sets personal highs in innings with each appearance, and has some sort of seasonal pitch count, maybe. Quintana’s nice showing comes after a solid minor league career, the caveat being that he’s pitched, um, zero AAA innings and all of 48.2 innings above sinigle A. Addison Reed’s taken over the closer role, and done well, after zipping through the Sox system: in two seasons, he pitched 30 innings of Rookie ball, 8 of A ball, 28.1 of high A, 20.2 of AA, and 21.1 of AAA.

That’s the Sox, though, loathe to let anybody waste an out in the minors if they might do it in the bigs. At any rate, the Sox can win this division—if the arms don’t fall off their moundsmen.