Rongey: Chicago White Sox' offense only as good at top of the order
Nearly two months ago, I wrote a column addressing the misdirected ire at John Danks and Tyler Flowers.
At that time, the Chicago White Sox were, much like now, a team five games under .500 and struggling to hit.
They're easy targets, as Danks' contract doesn't quite jive with what you'd expect for that sort of money, and Flowers' WAR hovers around replacement level.
The point of that column was to argue their performances weren't the areas that should be drawing the level of scrutiny they were because there were far greater problems. It was almost like complaining about the key scratch on the driver's side door while the car's engine is on fire.
I argued then we should be focusing our disappointment on the top six hitters in the American League's worst offense, in particular, the top of the order in Adam Eaton and Melky Cabrera. I pointed out the two combined would have been arguably the best 1-2 punch in any AL order in 2014, but in the middle of June 2015 they were essentially the worst.
And it all starts at the top of the order. As in any lineup, a good top of the order sets up the heart of the order for success. If those two guys don't get on base, an offense likely will not be any better than mediocre.
Now here we are and, wouldn't you know it, Eaton and Cabrera are doing what was expected of them from the beginning.
Actually, even better. And while it hasn't totally solved all of the White Sox' problems, the difference in the offense is apparent.
They're scoring more regularly with far fewer frustrating failed RBI opportunities. The Sox now have a competent offense, though it's happening a little too late in a season that's starting to get away from them.
And while it is not entirely on the shoulders of Eaton and Cabrera (Jose Abreu certainly has been a large part of the resurgence, though he was never exactly unproductive this year), their contributions are significant.
Consider this: In the first half, Eaton brought an OPS of .692. Since then, it's at 1.065. Meanwhile, Cabrera was at .643 in the first 81 games. In the second half, he's at 1.043.
The result? The Sox have gone from last in offensive WAR for the first half to fifth best in the second. Consequently, the Sox have gone 22-16 since.
Again, that isn't all Eaton and Cabrera, but their collective performance has given Abreu something to work with. Finally, those two are what we thought they were.
Unfortunately, just in time for those bats to heat up, the arms have struggled.
Well, not all of them, but uncharacteristically, Chris Sale and Jeff Samardzija each have had back-to-back starts in which they got clobbered. They've both allowed at least 7 runs in each of those starts, after being terrific right up until then.
Had the White Sox' Top Two in the lineup been doing this since the start, we're looking at a much different season. To be fair, neither hitter should be expected to keep up this exact pace, but even performing closer to their norms would've probably put the Sox in position to play meaningful games late in September.
• Chris Rongey is the host of the White Sox pregame and postgame shows on WSCR 670-AM The Score. Follow him on Twitter@ChrisRongey and at chrisrongey.com.