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White Sox Tue Oct 02 2012

White Sox Watch Tigers Win Division, Confirm Collapse

Sox_200.pngIn front of a generous count of 15,000 people, Tigers' closer Jose Valverde nailed down his biggest save of the season. The bespectacled righty hurled his best pitch, his fastball, and he induced a chopper up the middle from batter Alcides Escobar. Shortstop Jhonny Peralta gathered it and fired it over to Prince Fielder at first, the throw beating the speedy Escobar to the bag by a half step. The hefty slugger jumped off the bag with joy, and his Motown teammates mobbed each other around the pitcher's mound.

It was official. The Detroit Tigers are headed to the postseason, clinching the American League Central. And, most importantly (for readers of Gapers Block, anyway), the Chicago White Sox' season will be over after Wednesday night's game.

The late season meltdown was complete.

The iconic moments of the season -- Philip Humber's perfect game, Chris Sale striking out 15 Rays, Dayan Viciedo's game winner, Kevin Youkilis's arrival and the walk-off on Independence Day, the choke/comeback against Seattle, Alex Rios's take-out slide, among others -- will, essentially, go for naught. They would have been fantastic footnotes to a banner year; instead, they will always be reminders for what could have been.

It was a long, strange season for the Sox. They started out slow, found a groove in May, lapsed in June, jolted up again in late June and early July, slowly wilted from July to September, and completely fell off at the end of September. The Sox choked away a division crown in what should have been a rebuilding year. They surprised early and disappointed late.

Though the club was a solid 47-38 in the first half, the second half left a lot to be desired. Did you know that since the all-star break:
• Chicago won two or more games in a row only six times? Baltimore did that 11 times in the same time frame.
• No one hit above .300 or got on base 35% of the time?
• The team as a whole ranked in the lower half of the American League in all major batting categories except home runs?
• No regular starting pitcher had an ERA under 4.0?
• That the pitching staff nearly led the league in walks?

The Sox, very gradually, morphed from a team that, in early July, looked like a pennant contender, to a team that would be content with an ALDS appearance, to a team that didn't deserve to make the postseason at all. The failure wasn't the work of one player during the last few weeks of the season; the whole team struggled since July.

Don't get me wrong, the team did choke away a playoff berth. Before Monday night, the Sox had gone 2-10 in their last 12 games, and Detroit jumped six games on Chicago as four regulars hit under .200 and three starters had ERAs above 5.0.

The collapse, though, was a bit closer to that of the forgotten-about 2010 San Diego Padres than the legendary 1964 Philadelphia Phillies. Though the Sox spent 126 days in first place, the most games Chicago led by was 3.5. Their lead was always vulnerable. All they needed was one bad stretch for them to be in serious trouble. It almost happened a few times for the Sox, but this last cold spell was the killer.

That's what happens when both the pitching and hitting decline, when road wins and victories against contending ballclubs are hard to come by, and when a previously loose and easy going team gets stiff.

The Tigers move on, and the Sox will be able to watch their rivals play October baseball from home.

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