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Quentin’s Return won’t put the Sox over the Top

flickr.com/Keith Allison

Far be it a bad thing when a player who was his team’s MVP last season triumphantly returns to the lineup amidst a tight AL Central division.  The White Sox enter action tonight in third place, but only 2.5 games behind the Detroit Tigers for first place in the AL Central.

He’ll make the White Sox better.  Perhaps noticeably better.  It’s just not going to matter.

In Quentin’s absence, the White Sox have been a pretty darn good defensive team.  Scott Podsednik is a plus left fielder, signed off the scrap heap to play there after Quentin’s injury.  Neither Brian Anderson nor Dwayne Wise has the bat to play in a major league outfield, but both are better defenders than Podsednik.  With Quentin returning with his questionable range in left, the White Sox will push Podsednik over to Center Field, where his glove really doesn’t play well.  Jermaine Dye, already the team’s biggest problem on defense, will make up the third piece of a horrible defensive outfield.  Overnight, the White Sox go from being strong at four defensive positions, to being strong only at shortstop (Alexi Ramirez) and first base (Paul Konerko).  Given the fly ball tendencies of Mark Buerhle, John Danks, and most of the bullpen, this is a troubling development.

Of course, the Sox hope to make up for this defensive decline by adding Quentin back into a lineup that might still be among the most feared in the AL.  The White Sox have been led this year by their pitching and defense, but back in June, a month into Quentin’s time on the DL, the White Sox were as many as seven games below .500, and the pitching and defense were no better or worse than they’ve been since then.  The key is that, over the last 5 weeks, the White Sox lineup has gone from one of the worst offenses in the AL to a middle of the pack AL lineup.

Spearheading the improvement: the same middle of the order that’s been doing it for them since 2006.

  • Jim Thome (Age: 38)
  • Jermaine Dye (35)
  • Paul Konerko (33)
  • A.J. Pierzynski (32)

In my eyes, there’s a reason why the White Sox couldn’t produce offensively over the first two months of the season, and in making a prediction on which way the team will trend over the next two months, I feel better relying on the first two months of evidence than the last month and a half of out-of-this-world play from the middle-aged White Sox.

In this respect, Quentin (26) provides the middle of the White Sox lineup with a stable, young bat who can help the team produce, but I think that expecting last year’s production for the rest of the year out of him is wishful thinking.  In fact, the most realistic projections of Quentin’s performance for the rest of the season suggest that he’s going to add about half-a-win with the bat over the rest of the season.

Ultimately, the regression of the older players, as well as the value-limiting effect (plus regression) of Podsednik in Center Field is going to knock the White Sox off of their current pace, and from here, I think the defensive decline in the outfield is only going to worsen it.  Getting Carlos Quentin back is, in a vacuum, a positive development, but I think it coincidentally marks a turning point in the White Sox season, a point at which they fall out of realistic contention  in the AL Central.

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