Rongey: This season challenged some baseball 'truths'
The White Sox will finish with a better record than they had last year, but that fact isn't especially comforting to fans who expected so much more in 2015. I know I did, and until early-to-mid-August, I even stuck with the prediction this club would finish at or above .500. Unless they run the table, they won't get there.
What this year has established for me is that you often just never really know in baseball. Any reasonable baseball fan approaches every season knowing there will be surprising developments, yet those surprises are, well, still surprising.
Just look at all that was contrary to popular prediction: the Astros are on the verge of the playoffs (a year or two earlier than projections), the Indians aren't (even though outlets such as Sports Illustrated picked them to win the whole thing), and the Royals have owned the Central for most of the year (despite being projected by many to finish third or fourth in the division).
And that's just the American League.
This season has also challenged some of those absolute baseball "truths" we hear every year:
• "Good teams win the close games." (Three of the five current AL playoff teams have losing records in one-run games.)
• "Can't make the playoffs if you don't beat teams in your own division." (True for the Blue Jays, Yankees, and Royals, but Houston and Texas are under .500 against the West. The Astros have been in first, or in the wild-card race, for almost the entire season.)
Others have been confirmed:
• "Pitching and defense win championships." (This is half-true in 2015. Of the 10 current playoff teams, only Kansas City, St. Louis, and Texas are in the top 10 defensively. The Yankees and Pirates are in the bottom 10. However, seven of the top 10 pitching teams are postseason teams today.)
Oddly, the White Sox are in the upper-third in baseball in terms of pitching wins above replacement and fielding independent pitching. Unfortunately their defense, despite some improvement, grades out as one of the worst in the game. The Sox offense, as well, has been baseball's least productive.
The lesson here is that a team can certainly afford to be lousy in one of the three main areas of the game (pitching, hitting, defense), but if it's awful in two of the three, it stands no chance. In fact, if it weren't for respectable pitching, the Sox could've had MLB's worst record, instead of being 20th overall.
The only thing any of us care about now is how they can go about fixing it. The reality is that they'll have to hope for better starts next year from Adam Eaton and Melky Cabrera, and a rebound season from Adam LaRoche. That'll be enough to make up some of the distance, but an offensive upgrade from outside the organization will likely be necessary. As I've said before, my money's on third base.
The Sox' chances would also be aided by another muddled AL race next season. Beginning play on Saturday, only the A's had been eliminated from the postseason. Conversely, the only NL resolution needed is the winner of the Central. The playoff teams have essentially been set for quite some time.
If anything, Sox fans capable of removing themselves from the disappointment can enjoy the wild card chaos in the final week. At least it's something, right?
• 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.