The White Sox were projected to be a good team coming into 2021. With a young core of fun players, the team gets on base, hits home runs, and pitches well. Chicago amassed 93 wins, third-best in the American League, and sailed to an easy Central pennant against some of the worst competition in baseball.
The Sox took a share of first place on May 4th, and never looked back. They blast past Cleveland, Kansas City, Detroit, and the Twins, who were expected to be division contenders, but ended up in dead-last. Ultimately, Chicago won the division by 13 games, and ended up with the prize of playing the juggernaut Astros. That’s where it all fell apart.
There were a couple of harbingers of what was to come in the 2021 playoffs. The Sox had a hot stretch in the first half of the season, but were mediocre the second half, buffered by a division where the next-best team, Cleveland, finished the season two games under .500 (with the other teams even worse).
In the second half, Chicago was 39-34 (.534) a far-cry from their excellent 54-35 (.607) in the first half. Additionally, the Sox didn’t play well against good teams. Against the other AL playoff teams, Chicago’s record was 10-16 (.384). The White Sox beat up on teams they should have defeated handily — they were 7-0 against Baltimore, 12-7 against Detroit, and 13-6 against the Twins. It was enough to runaway with the division, but Chicago never really demonstrated that they were in the same class as the other division winners, or even the 92-win wild card teams.
The White Sox were completely overmatched in the Houston series. They scored only six runs in their three losses, with any semblance of offense shown in their only victory, in game three. Chicago’s pitching simply could not contain Houston’s offense, as nearly every hurler gave up runs.
Of the 12 Chicago pitchers that took the mound in the ALDS, only Garrett Crochet and Jose Ruiz had shutout appearances. Sox’ starters gave up a combined 14 runs in 12 ⅔ innings. The Astros got off to fast starts, and even when they fell behind early by a run of two, quickly overcame the deficit, and never looked back.
The Astros have made it to the ALCS every year since 2017. It’s not a fluke that they bested the White Sox, as Houston was the better team all season. That said, Chicago finished the season with the best FIP in the American League, and the second-best ERA. They struck out the most batters per nine innings of any MLB team, and had the highest starter fWAR of any AL team by five full wins.
Chicago also overcame numerous injuries early in the season, positioning themselves well to take a division that was open to any above .500 team.
The White Sox have a good core, with plenty of talent signed for next season. Sometimes in a short series one team dominates, that’s how it goes in MLB, but with more reps in the postseason, with this young core of talent, Chicago will likely break through and reach the ALCS or a World Series in the coming years.
Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano