White Sox Back in AL Central Division Race- OMG! Are you Serious?

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During the infamous “White Flag trade” in early August of 1997, Chicago White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf was infamously quoted “any one who thinks this team can catch the Cleveland Indians is crazy.” Given that the Sox were just 3.5 back of the division leaders from Ohio, with 7 weeks left in the season, it INFURIATED White Sox fans.

And it should; they conceded their season with more than enough baseball left to be played. The Cleveland Indians started 30-15; they’ve been just 4-14 since. And it’s very likely they’ll get another beat down from the New York Yankees again tonight.

The White Sox by contrast were 11-21, .344 pct. 11.5 games out, and the worst team in baseball on Cinco de Mayo. In the games since then, they’re 22-14, and now find themselves in the exact same position as they were on the day of the white flag trade 14 years ago, 3.5 behind first place Cleveland.

By Paul M. Banks

There is a very different dynamic though from 1997, and it involves the Detroit Tigers. The two teams who went all in this past winter were the Sox and Tigers. Not just in the Central, but all of baseball. We knew this Indians flukiness wouldn’t last. They’re 1-9 in their last ten, and Detroit has caught them to tie for first place. This race will come down to the Tigers and White Sox; exactly like the rosters and payrolls say it should.

For Chicago, all the players numbers are now starting to regress to the career mean. Except of course for Alex Rios and Adam Dunn. They were a big reason for the slow start, and they’re a huge reason for why the Sox haven’t taken first place yet. Dunn homered twice in the Oakland series which just ended. So he’s starting to do one of the three things he always does (hit home runs, strike out and walk). He’s been doing the other two since opening day in spades.

If Dunn and Rios can finally start hitting consistently and get their batting averages back near their career marks, the Central will belong to Chicago. If their final two big weapons decide to join us here in ’11, the Sox will start handling the bad teams as well as they handle the good ones. Chicago is already ahead of last year’s pace. One year ago at this time they were 28-33. However, they were also a full week into their amazing 26-5 run that pushed them into first.

Of course, we all remember the down the stretch collapse which let the Minnesota Twins take the division; yet again. What a perfect segue- Despite this being the deepest hole the Twins have ever been in during the Ron Gardenhire era, I’m still not sold on the idea of them actually being finished. As much of a disaster as their season has been, they’re just 9 games back and we all know the Twinkies are a second half team.

But they’re atrocious at home (9-16) and the only reason the last place Twins are even in striking distance of the Kansas City Royals for fourth place is because they went 8-2 in their last ten. The pitching has improved; but who knows about what they will get of Joe Mauer in 2011? And Justin Morneau seems like damaged goods now. He’ll never be the same guy he was pre-concussion. With all these issues and injuries, the Sox NEED to bury them this week during their three game series in Minnesota.

Target Field has quickly become just as much a house of horrors as the Metrodome, but that’s no excuse. This is a partial AAA team the Twins have been forced to field. And they have a poor home record. If the White Sox are actually in this thing, they need to show it by winning in the Twin Cities.

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports You can follow him on Twitter

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