Before the season started, it looked like the AL Central was split into three tiers. The Detroit Tigers were expected to be the class of the division. The White Sox and Indians were likely to be a step behind, but with the potential to make trouble if a few things broke their way. The Twins and Royals were supposed to party like it was 1999.
But the Tigers have looked like a catchable team so far, stumbling a bit with a top-heavy lineup and rotation. If a few things could go right for one of the teams in the second tier, it could make for an interesting pennant race.
Which brings us to the White Sox, who have had a ton of things go right. Two of their 30-something veterans -- Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski -- are off to their best starts ever. Two of the players the Sox might have figured were sunk costs -- Adam Dunn and Alex Rios -- are enjoying renaissance seasons so far. The hope was that Jake Peavy could contribute anything at all; he's been one of the best pitchers in baseball. Chris Sale's conversion from reliever to starter has been a rousing success.
There is so much going right for the White Sox. With a win over the Red Sox on Sunday, though, they merely reached .500. Because in the middle of all these nice stories and surprising seasons, you have this:
Those are some of the ugliest lines you'll see in baseball, and they're all lumped right in the middle of the White Sox' Baseball-Reference page. Viciedo is the best of the bunch, thanks to four home runs. The other three are carrying sub-.500 OPS's, hitting around what you'd expect from Cliff Lee and Edwin Jackson.
When you have one player struggling this mightily, you keep an eye on him and quietly ready a backup plan. When four players are flailing around like Rey Ordoñez with a sack over his head, what in the world can the White Sox do? Before you get the idea to call in the minor-league cavalry, remember the White Sox have the worst farm system in baseball. And in that worst farm system, there was only one position player in the top 10 who played above A-ball last year. That player, Ozzie Martinez, is hitting .125/.169/.143 in 56 triple-A at-bats. That's pretty close to Randy Johnson's career line.
You can probably expect Alexei Ramirez to get better. He has over 2400 plate appearances in his (quite consistent) major-league career, and those certainly mean more than the 88 plate appearances this season.
But the other three hitters were already substantial risks. A September surge helped Morel stay away from a historically wretched season. The bizarre decline of Beckham is entering its third year. And Viciedo -- still just 23 -- made improvements with his plate discipline in his second go-round in the International League, but was still a good bet to be one of the more unpolished hitters in the AL.
The White Sox were right to start them and hope one or two or three of them would figure something out. Even considering how much of a risk all of these players were, no one could have expected them to be this bad. And now the team has no choice but to wear it. The commitment they made to these youngish position players can't be undone that easily. There isn't anyone waiting in the wings, even if a change makes sense.
If everything else keeps going as well as it has been, and these four players can improve enough to ape Alex Rios or Juan Pierre's awful performances last year, the White Sox could jump ahead in the Central race. What's more likely is some of the surprisingly good starts will regress back to what was expected in the first place, and at least one or two of the hitters featured here will figure something out. When the dust clears, the White Sox still have a chance to contend. Until then, it's worth noting the Chicago White Sox have four drunken kazoo players screwing up the entire symphony.