As Lucas Giolito gets set to take the mound against the Guardians tonight, the White Sox will hope to build off the momentum they built heading into the All-Star break. At the time, the team had taken three of four from the division-leading Minnesota Twins, outscoring them 33-10. The series quickly turned around what appeared to fans as a potentially lost season, and now, with the team just three games back of the division lead, the team has an opportunity to capitalize with the second-place Guardians in town.
There are many questions still surrounding the team before game 93 of the season tonight. Here are five key ones that will determine just how successful the White Sox will be in the second half of the 2022 season.
#1 – Offensive surge: flash in the pan, or sign of a turnaround?
Over the past 15 games, the White Sox have hit 19 home runs. That one more home run than the team hit in their previous 28 games. In those 15 games, the club scored 78 runs, which is the second-most runs in baseball over that span of time.
As the White Sox have struggled offensively, there have been a few keys to the struggles: injuries, lack of plate discipline, and lack of home runs. It should come as no surprise that a huge key to the White Sox offense is going to be hitting the ball out of the ballpark, and for most of the season, the team was not doing that. While they’ve hit the fourth-most home runs in baseball over their past 15 games, they’re 24th in baseball in home runs on the season and 14th in total runs scored. In addition, the White Sox have made strides in getting their team healthy, and recently, the at-bats looked really solid for most of the Twins series. But, we’ve seen this before with the team: they put together 3-4 good games, pull fans back off the ledge, and proceed to lose three of the next four games to get themselves right back to around .500. Every time fans feel they’ve found the spark, they take another step backward.
So, it becomes fair to ask then: can fans believe in the offense that’s been displayed over the past few weeks? Or, is this a flash in the pan that will result in another frustrating set of games after finally regaining hope?
The reason for optimism: they’re hitting home runs like they were in 2021, and they weren’t doing that during previous periods of “false optimism” this season. The reason for pessimism: they’ve done this to fans several times over the course of the past 92 games, so it’s still hard for fans to fully buy-in.
#2 – What will the White Sox get out of Yoan Moncada and Yasmani Grandal?
The White Sox have just a 93 wRC+ against RHP this season, compared to a 108 wRC+ against RHP in 2021. A lot of the struggles have to do with a lack of offensive production from the left side of the plate. Yoan Moncada has struggled mightily for large chunks of this season, and when Yasmani Grandal hasn’t been injured, his .531 OPS has left much to be desired. To Moncada’s credit, over his last 14 games, he is hitting .294/.346/.471 and is hitting fastballs at a pretty good clip. Grandal has also shown signs of life on his rehab assignment. So, both hitters could be on their way back to career norms soon enough.
In their careers, both Yoan Moncada and Yasmani Grandal have a 117 wRC+ against RHP. So, the two of them go a long way in determining the success of a right-handed-heavy team against a right-handed pitcher.
If the White Sox are going to have a solid offense in the second half of the season, they are going to rely on Moncada and Grandal to help pace the offense from the left side of the plate. While Gavin Sheets has looked improved since returning from Charlotte, he cannot make up for the production Moncada and Grandal are supposed to provide in the lineup. If they both step up, the White Sox will likely find themselves in a very good place come October.
#3 – When will Lance Lynn, Michael Kopech, and Lucas Giolito return to form?
Over the past month or two of the season, each of the three named starting pitchers has struggled in some form for the White Sox. For Lance Lynn, his first 30 innings of the IL from knee surgery have been frustrating with his ERA in the 7s. Michael Kopech has battled knee inflammation and a dead arm period as he has ramped up innings over a short amount of time for the first time in his career. Lucas Giolito started the season well, but his velocity has been 1-2 mph slower all season, and he posted a four-start stretch with a 9.47 ERA and was really unable to keep the team in the ballgame at all. How long will it take Lance Lynn to feel “ready” following surgery? How many innings will Kopech be able to throw in 2022? What does Giolito have to do to find his fastball life and slider command again?
Considering that this is 60% of a healthy White Sox rotation, how these three hurlers come out in the second half of the season will be a key determinant in how well the White Sox perform on the mound over the next 70 games. Throughout the season, the pitching staff has been able to bail out a struggling offense, so some fatigue is expected. That being said, over the course of 162, the White Sox are going to need their five horses to come out and compete to give the White Sox a chance every fifth day. How they respond to the challenge goes a long way in dictating the final result of the 2022 season.
#4 – What will the team do at the Trade Deadline?
With Tony La Russa in the dugout and the team within striking distance of the AL Central lead, the White Sox appear to be positioned as buyers heading into the deadline. However, what do Rick Hahn and the rest of the front office see as the most crucial moves for this team?
At current, it would appear that they could use a LHP out of the bullpen, an extra SP to help ease the load on Michael Kopech, and a left-handed bat that can help Yoan Moncada and Yasmani Grandal try and solve some of the offensive woes against RHP. However, with more teams “in the hunt” because of expanded playoffs, there are more buyers and fewer sellers in the market. This will make it more difficult for the White Sox to acquire their “ideal target,” considering other teams are likely looking at the same few rebuilding teams for players. Could they look at Brandon Drury, Tyler Naquin, Tyler Mahle, Gregory Soto, Andrew Chafin, and others? Who is actually available, and what would they cost?
With the Twins and Guardians looming, however, the White Sox need to make impact moves in order to separate themselves in the division over the next 70+ games. While they’re not in a favorable position, how they respond to their current needs at the deadline may very well be the difference between winning the division and going home without a chance in the playoffs. Let’s hope the front office walks away from the Trade Deadline having made a splash and sent a message that they are gunning for the division crown again.
#5- How many wins will be necessary to take the AL Central?
According to tankathon.com, the White Sox have the second-easiest strength of schedule remaining on the season, with the hardest opponents being the Astros, Padres, and surging Mariners. The Twins, on the other hand, have the 12th-easiest schedule, with series against the Yankees, Dodgers, Astros, Padres, Brewers, and Blue Jays still to come. The Guardians have the 10th-easiest remaining schedule. With the Twins sitting at 50-44, the Guardians at 46-44, and the White Sox at 46-46, just how many wins will it take to win the AL Central?
If 90 is the magic number, then the White Sox would need to finish 44-26 to win the division, and they would need the Twins and Guardians to finish at 39-29 and 43-29, respectively, at best. If 85 is the magic number, it’s easier for the White Sox to reach that win total, but also easier for the Twins and Guardians to do it.
Much of what the final necessary win total will be will depend on what the Twins, Guardians, and White Sox each do at the trade deadline. The Twins desperately need pitching, while the Guardians could use a little bit more pop from their bats. Which team will be able to get what it needs the most, and who will win the crucial inter-division matchups? The White Sox need to focus inward first, as they do not control their own destiny and need to stack up wins. From there, it will be up to the Twins and Guardians to determine if the White Sox won enough to take home the AL Central crown for the second year in a row – but just what that number is remains to be seen.
Make sure to read our first half grades for the team and players here before the start of the second half today!
Any other key questions for the White Sox heading into the second half? Let us know in the comments below.
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Featured Image: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports