Mark Gonzales: Why AL Central domination should be top of mind for White Sox

  • Winning games in your own division is not lost on White Sox reliever Kendall Graveman.

    Winning games in your own division is not lost on White Sox reliever Kendall Graveman. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 5/16/2022 11:28 AM

The importance of winning games within your own division wasn't lost on reliever Kendall Graveman and his former Mariners teammates who reacted with anger and violence late last July when he was traded to the American League West rival Astros in the midst of a series between the two teams prior to the trade deadline.

Graveman now has the security of a three-year, $24 million contract with the White Sox, but he's not about to downplay a five-game series in four days at Kansas City this week, or that the Sox possesses the worst intradivision record (4-10) in the AL Central.

 

"Obviously, we've gotten off to a slow start in our division," Graveman said. "But the good news is that we've played really well outside of our division and have kept us where we're at.

"It's not like we're getting beat up on both ends. And I think we've done a better job this year so far playing better on the road than this team has in the past."

There have been series victories at Detroit and Boston, but their 7-7 road record has been balanced by losing six consecutive games at AL Central foes Cleveland and Minnesota last month.

The Sox won't have to worry as much about winning games against division rivals in 2023 because of Major League Baseball's plans to revert to a balanced schedule that will significantly reduced the number of intradivison games from 76.

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But the Sox's future is now, and they must play better within their division to alleviate their task of winning the AL Central for the second consecutive season and earning a more favorable seed in the expanded playoffs.

A 19-game stretch from July 4 to 24 -- all against AL Central opponents -- should give general manager Rick Hahn an accurate reading on how much he should fortify the roster for the long run or with more urgency leading up to the Aug. 2 trade deadline.

The Twins currently hold first place partly on the basis of their 9-3 record division record, and Sox manager Tony La Russa acknowledges there's a premium on division games because of the potential to add or lose ground instantly.

"When you play four teams 19 times, it definitely, according to the math, means more," La Russa said.

The math worked favorably for Graveman last July when he gained seven games in the AL West. Graveman lowered his ERA to 0.82 in 30 games after beating the team that traded for him the following day in a four-player trade.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The Mariners never got closer than 3½ games out of first place, and they finished two game short of tying for a wild-card berth.

Equipment was broken, and several players cried in betrayal after Graveman was traded, according to the Seattle Times.

"They don't care about winning," an anonymous player told the Times shortly after the trade. "How do you trade (Graveman) and say you care about winning? And you trade him to Houston? It never changes."

Graveman's performance changed slightly, and the Mariners' knowledge might have played a role in his ERA swelling to 1.77.

Four weeks later, Graveman allowed one run to his former teammates in a 6-3 loss. And nine days later, Graveman allowed a grand slam to Abraham Toro -- one of the players involved in his trade -- to account for the scoring in a loss.

"The unique thing about playing in your division is there such a knowledge of each other as you go through it," Graveman said. "It's so different for myself and some other guys that are here for the first year, but you get to know each other really well and that cat and mouse comes along with playing each other.

"How do you attack hitters? What are (aggressive) hitters looking from you? What have you done because you're going to have more opportunities to pitch against these guys during the season."

Graveman gained revenge by pitching back-to-back consecutive outings against the Mariners a week after the grand slam to Toro.

Lance Lynn and Eloy Jiménez are scheduled to return within a month, but the Sox must regain their division dominance.

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