Preseason expectations were high for the Chicago White Sox, who were projecting to be one of the best teams in the American League.
Instead, the Sox have hovered around .500 for most of the season. That’s where they are, 46-46, at the All-Star break, good for third place in the AL Central.
Shortstop Tim Anderson described the first half as “challenging.”
“But it’s also part of the learning and growing process,” Anderson said Monday during All-Star media day at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. “Now that the first half is over, we can go back to the drawing board and understand what we did wrong and now we can continue to improve for the second half.
“Go out and compete and have fun.”
That focus was on display when the White Sox won five of their last six before halftime against the two teams ahead of them in the Central: the second-place Cleveland Guardians and the division-leading Minnesota Twins.
The Red Sox return to action Friday with the first of four games in three days against the Guardians at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“I think we can take advantage of what we are capable of doing,” Anderson said. “If everyone can maximize and everyone can go out there and be the best they can be. If everyone is at their best, then I think we’ll be in a good place.”
Here are three questions facing the Sox as the season resumes.
The Houston Astros entered Thursday as the only AL team with more road wins (31) than the Red Sox, who are 27-21 on the road.
Strangely, the Sox haven’t duplicated that success at Guaranteed Rate Field, where they are 19-25.
“The record speaks for itself,” Sox manager Tony La Russa said July 8 during the team’s final homestand. “So you identify the problem and attack it. We have noticed it for a while now, especially compared to last year. This is a new year.
“The guys like to play here, the fans are very vocal and supportive. So it’s really not an easy answer. You have to have goals. The objective is to start winning series at home”.
The Sox are slashing .239/.300/.362 in their 44 home games and .272/.321/.404 in their 48 road games. They have scored 222 runs on the road and 184 at home.
But it’s not just offensive totals. The Sox have a 3.57 ERA on the road and a 4.35 ERA at home. They have allowed 59 home runs at Guaranteed Rate Field and 41 on the road.
The Red Sox had the best home record in the American League last season (53-28) en route to winning the Central. They will have to turn it around if they want to win the division again. The Red Sox will have plenty of opportunities right after the break, with 10 of their next 12 games at Guaranteed Rate.
Injuries have been a major hurdle all season, going back to spring training when reliever Garrett Crochet underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery.
Heading into halftime, the Red Sox were without catcher Yasmani Grandal, who has been on a rehab assignment while recovering from lower back spasms. Reliever Aaron Bummer has been on the disabled list since June 9 with a left wing strain. He would give the team much-needed southpaw depth in the bullpen.
The Red Sox did not place Eloy Jimenez on the disabled list after the left fielder left the July 13 game against the Guardians with tightness in the right leg. He missed the last four games before the break. The Red Sox spent most of the Twins’ series without center fielder Luis Robert. He left after the first entry on July 15 with dizziness.
Robert provided the power boost with a grand slam in a 12-2 win against the Twins the night before. The Red Sox rank 24th in the majors with 80 home runs, and having Grandal and Jimenez for extended periods will help in that department.
How the Sox use Jimenez, in terms of how often he’s in left field and how often he’s the designated hitter, will be worth monitoring.
“The last time (the injury) happened, I was running the bases,” La Russa said on July 14. Jiménez was out from April 24 to July 6 after suffering a torn hamstring behind his right knee while running toward first base. He left the July 13 game after making a rushing catch.
“He has to use his legs,” La Russa said. “Especially when we get (Grandal) back, you look at our roster composition, it’s pretty hard to secure the DH spot.”
The Sox will also continue to monitor Michael Kopech’s innings, as they have said since spring training. The right-hander has a 3.36 ERA in 17 starts. He has pitched 83 innings as he transitioned back into the rotation after spending most of last season in relief. He pitched 69⅓ innings in 44 appearances (four starts) last season.
“We are looking at it and it is one of the measures,” La Russa said on July 13. start), how are your things”.
Kopech liked the “stuff” in his most recent outing, earning the win on July 15 against the Twins.
“Normally I don’t like to look at the radar gun, but lately I’ve been looking at it a lot to see if it’s back,” Kopech said after the start. “It seemed that she was back (July 15). I threw harder than I’ve ever been, my slider also went up a tick. I felt good about the things I had.”
Even with an expanded playoff format, the likely best route for the Red Sox to return to the postseason for a third straight year appears to be to win the division.
They are one game behind the Guardians and trail the Twins by three. The Red Sox trailed the Toronto Blue Jays 3 1/2 games Thursday for the final three wild-card spots. The Red Sox are tied with the surprising Baltimore Orioles and trail behind the Boston Red Sox and Guardians.
The Sox have losing records against the Guardians (3-6) and Twins (4-6), but time will tell if last week serves as a turning point. After losing the first two in a series in Cleveland, the Red Sox won the last two thanks to strong pitching from Dylan Cease and Lucas Giolito. The Sox then went to Target Field and won three of four against the Twins while outscoring them 32-10.
“Huge to end that way,” Anderson said of the Twins series.
The Red Sox have 10 games left against the Guardians: four from Friday to Sunday, three from Aug. 19-21 in Cleveland and three from Sept. 20-22 at Guaranteed Rate Field.
The Sox see a lot of the Twins down the stretch. They will meet for three games Sept. 2-4 at Guaranteed Rate Field and will play six of the final nine games of the season: Sept. 27-29 at Target Field and Oct. 3-5 at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“Everyone has seen that we haven’t lived up to our own potential, and that’s something we’re very aware of in that clubhouse,” All-Star closer Liam Hendriks said Monday in Los Angeles. “It’s also something, we control our own destiny. We haven’t played our best baseball, especially against Central (18-19), and that’s something we really need to pick up in the second half.
“But something that we showed … being able to win the last two against Cleveland and take three of four in Minnesota, that’s something we can take at halftime and now come back fully rested and ready to go.”