White Sox end first half on remarkable run

White Sox end first half on remarkable run

CHICAGO -- Mention the word playoffs to the White Sox on Sunday evening, the official start of the 2010 All-Star break, and you almost can hear former NFL coach Jim Mora's incredulous rant about such a suggestion from several years ago.

"There's a lot of baseball left," said White Sox starter Mark Buehrle.

"Be in the playoffs or not, only god knows the situation," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "We are going to show up every day to make that happen, at least give the team a chance to be there."

Why shouldn't the White Sox at least give momentary pause to consider the postseason? Their 15-5 destruction of the Royals on Sunday completed their sixth perfect homestand in club history and marked their eighth victory in a row.

That sweep of the Royals also finished off an amazing and improbable 25-5 run by the White Sox into the end of the first half. They went from an also-ran to a run-away, going from a third-place team sitting nine games under and 9 1/2 games out of first place in the American League Central on June 8 to a first-place team by a half-game over the Tigers.

Even Kansas City manager Ned Yost, whose team came into the series with five wins in six games on its nine-game road trip, understood the buzz saw ripping through the Royals.

"It wasn't our fault," Yost said. "It was the schedule-maker's fault for putting us up against the White Sox when they were hot."

Detractors of this White Sox run will label the South Siders somewhere along the lines of Yost's comment -- a group certainly not as bad as it played over the season's first nine weeks but currently in the midst of a ridiculous hot streak and playing .833 baseball. The streak includes a 14-4 record against the Royals, Cubs, Pirates and Nationals, who probably won't reach the playoffs this season unless they buy tickets.

On the other side of the argument, though, lies the fact that the White Sox are simply a sturdy team. Maybe they aren't quite yet the best in the American League, but with 75 games remaining, they certainly look like the AL Central favorite.

Their bullpen is the best in the division. Their starting pitching, even minus Jake Peavy, stacks up favorably against the Twins or the Tigers, and their offense has found a comfort zone courtesy of the White Sox dominant starters and has responded in the relaxed atmosphere.

"Pitching has enabled us to turn into a clutch-hitting team by putting zeroes up," White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker said. "If we do fail, they just keep putting zeroes up and, sooner or later, we get it done. On days where we have bad days, we are still winning 2-1 and 1-0 games."

"When we came into Spring Training, we knew what kind of team we have and we know what kind of talent we got, so we are looking forward to going out there and trying to win the division," said White Sox outfielder Andruw Jones. "The way things started a month ago, a month and a half ago, everybody was like, 'Wow,' but we've brought things back."

Bringing things back, as Jones termed it, included an 11-1 run against the Angels (4-0), Braves (3-0) and Rangers (2-1), all playoff contenders. This stretch began after All-Star Matt Thornton was touched up for five runs in the seventh inning of a 7-2 loss to the Tigers on that fateful June 8, followed by back-to-back wins over Detroit.

This June game was memorable only because Thornton has been unhittable in almost every other one of his 37 appearances, but it wasn't a decided low point for the White Sox -- not any worse than the other 56 games during their 24-33 start. Aside from the ongoing Guillen-Ken Williams saga, the team stayed together and kept the faith more than ever.

Twenty-five wins in 30 games have given Williams, the ultra-aggressive general manager, a chance to make a high-impact move before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. Those moves were anticipated back in early June, only it was about breaking up the team, not adding on to a burgeoning power.

Now, the right piece could put the White Sox in the running with the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays and Rangers for the AL's best. That World Series step is one giant leap past the playoffs, but this superior version of the 2010 White Sox legitimately should be allowed to dream.

"A shock," said Guillen describing the team's climb, making up 13 games in the standings on Minnesota over 30 played. "To be honest with you, I think it is a shock just because the way the team was playing, all the negative stuff outside the clubhouse. How many games we got to put up to be over .500. How many games we were out of first place. It's a shock how quick we did it."

"Our first-place lead is by one half-game, so it's not like we have a comfortable lead," Buehrle said. "We shouldn't even focus on that. Just keep on playing like we have been."

"It's a testament to the 25 guys and the guys called up that never stopped believing even when the media was about ready to rip the whole team apart," White Sox leadoff man Juan Pierre said. "It's good to be in first, but I want to be in first after the second half of the season. This is fine but we have a lot of work to do."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.