Monday, September 10, 2012

Crystal Ball (one man’s take on the stretch run)

Then they told me to blow it all to hell and gone! And I blew
It all to hell and gone (oh, didn’t I)…
“In Order To,” Kenneth Patchen

September Wooz: The rocky road is bound to get rockier. (David Banks/UP)
A thumbnail sketch, for those hornswaggled and hashtagged by the Twitter world: It doesn’t end well.

I’ve had a habit of sketching out the last month of the season whenever the White Sox are close to first, to see how it all plays out. Admittedly, there’s a strange sense of fatalism in the exercise. (Somewhere, I still have a postcard where I tracked the 2005 meltdown, turning a 10-game division lead throughout into a mess of scratch-outs and, likely, fitful rips and dried teardrops.)

The 2005 Notecard of Dread, Gnashing and Doom
(courtesy of the author)
With a two-game lead heading into the “biggest series of the season,” it seems an apt time to play the rest of the year out again. I don’t like what I see.

Detroit takes the division at 89-73, with the White Sox two back, at 87-75.

The White Sox have a fairly easy road the rest of the way—as do the Tigers.

Forget home and away (essentially even) or games vs. .500 teams. The White Sox play against two clubs (seven games) who are in the heat of the playoff race, the Tigers just one, a three-game home set vs. Oakland.

The White Sox are 34-30 against their opponents the rest of the way (including 4-10 ver Detroit and 5-10 vs. K.C.), while the Tigers have gone 37-29 vs. their foes (under .500 against only Cleveland, at 5-9). So Detroit has an even easier trip into October than the White Sox.

Plus, the White Sox rotation is out of gas and tattered. Even a strong start by Hector Santiago—a potential Jason Bere for 2012?—was mitigated by the fact that, as the White Sox closer breaking camp, he can’t stretch out long to provide anything more that “long relief” starts. Jake Peavy is getting by on grit and duct tape, Chris Sale on that scary throwing motion. Francisco Liriano and Jose Quintana? Shambolic. Gavin Floyd, feeling “OK” after three side sessions, is going to be counted on in key games? Sheesh. Healthy, in 2012, he’s not been reliable in key games.

Detroit shows cracks, largely with a defense that the whole of the Netherlands couldn’t plug. But where it really counts, the starting rotation, the Bengals have an advantage. The Tigs boast a Big 3 (Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer) and even the back end of the rotation is more stable than Chicago’s, with Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello.

Roughly speaking, we can call the bullpens a wash, and Detroit’s offensive advantage cancelled out by the White Sox’s defensive one. So it very well may come down to the rotations.

I have the two teams tied for four more days of the season, the latest being September 26. Not more than two games will separate the teams until September 29, when the White Sox are embroiled in a do-or-die quartet with the stronger Tampa Rays.

I’m giving gold stars to Sale and Verlander for going undefeated the rest of the way. Here’s how the games will break down per pitcher:

White Sox: Peavy (White Sox go 4-1 in games he starts), Santiago/Quintana (2-3), Liriano (1-4), Floyd (1-3), Sale (4-0).

Tigers: Verlander (4-0), Sanches (1-4), Porcello (3-2), Fister (4-1), Scherzer (4-1).

Detroit will come in and take three of four from the White Sox, with Peavy bulldogging his way to the only win of the series. Thus Detroit leaves town tied for first and basically never looks back. Chicago will falter in the two long series it has left (Detroit and Tampa), winning just one of four in both cases.

Believe me, I hope I'm wrong about these prognostications. For what it's worth, I missed on Verlander's loss in Anaheim on Saturday but got both getaway losses correct, for the White Sox and Tigers. Let's hope I'm being a little to hard on the likes of Francisco Liriano and Groovy Gavin.

At any rate, merely splitting this coming series, much less winning it, will change the White Sox’s fortunes considerably and basically make or break the season. If the idea that for the third time this season the White Sox will drop out of sole possession of first after a series with the Tigers isn’t enough to crush the club’s playoff hopes, the fact that Detroit has an easier go of it after leaving Chicago will certainly do so.

It’s simple. Win this series, White Sox, and you win the division. Split or lose it? Pack up the cats, it’s been fun.

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