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Jazz great Mose Allison wrote a song more than 50 years ago that could serve as the theme for the surprising turns the American League pennant races have taken since the July 31st trade deadline: "It Didn't Turn Out That Way."
Did anyone think then that neither the A's nor the Tigers would be leading their divisions a month later, heading into the season's final turn?
The White Sox are doing their part in the drama, having just split a four-game series with Detroit, whom they will see for three more games this month, and consummating a trade with Oakland, whom they will see for four. (They also have seven left against the division-leading Royals, including the last four of the season at The Cell.) If things had gone as planned, those games could already be scratched off as meaningless. Not now.
First, the A's.
When Billy Beane not only won the Jeff Samardzija sweepstakes but nabbed Jason Hammel as well in a blockbuster trade with the Cubs back on July 5th, the A's were 54-33 record and had a 3 1/2-game lead over the Angels. Beane insisted he was only trying his damndest to win the division, but the pundits were penciling them in for the World Series. You never saw so many stories written about how a team was "all-in." Then Beane added Jon Lester and the engravers started inscribing his name on the General Manager of the Year award.
Play it, Mose!
After the Angels - whose big move was acquiring Gordon Beckham - 8-1 pasting of the A's on Sunday completed a four-game sweep, the A's record since Samardzija and Hammel donned the green and gold stands at 25-25. Oakland now trails Anaheim by five games in the division, and suddenly finds itself reduced to protecting a four-game lead in the race for the first wild card.
Samardzija has pitched decently, but not dominatingly; his ERA with the A's is 3.57, which puts him behind 24 other pitchers in the AL, including Jose Quintana.
Hammel (1-5, 5.77) has simply been a disaster.
Lester's ERA is 2.66, but his record is only 3-2. Like Samardzija (4-4), Lester obviously misses the run support of an offense fueled by Yoenis Cespedes, whom the A's gave up to get him.
In a move to bolster that sagging Oakland attack, Beane took Adam Dunn off Rich Hahn's hands in a deal that should be good for both sides.
Dunn doesn't replace Cespedes, but the truth is the A's haven't had a genuine DH all year; Alberto Callaspo filled the role Sunday, the third DH that Oakland used in their weekend series against the Angels. Dunn's ability to take a walk while hitting a home run approximately once every five games just might help.
In return, the Sox get minor-leaguer Nolan Sanburn, a 2012 second-round draft pick who has already crashed and burned but appears to be on the return. You couldn't reasonably have expected to get more for Dunn - which just goes to show what a disappointment his time here has been.
No, things really didn't work out as planned when the White Sox signed the Big Donkey for $56 million as a free agent four years ago. For every hit (371) he delivered, the Sox got almost two strikeouts (720).
Dunn's initial season here in 2011 was as painful to watch as any we've seen in these parts; Dunn managed to produce a batting average (.159) lower than his strikeout total (177) and, for some strange reason that doesn't seem quite attributable to adjusting to American League pitchers, he seemed as wildly overmatched as a Double-A player called up too soon.
To his credit, Dunn returned to form, as it were, in 2012, when he launched 41 home runs and drove in 96 while making the All-Star team, despite a .204 batting average. The Sox led the division most of that season before finishing second with an 85-77 record.
For the most part, though, Dunn (and his contract) was an albatross.
And yet, the A's find themselves in such a state that they hope he can help save their season before he slinks off into retirement.
As for the once high-flying Tigers, the White Sox handed them a 6-2 loss at The Cell on Sunday to send them off with a measly split that leaves them a half-game behind the Royals.
Who would've thought we'd be writing that line after the Tigers acquired ace David Price from the Rays on the trade deadline as a sort of one-upsmanship with the A's? Suddenly the Tigers' rotation boasted the last three Cy Young Award winners and a date with the A's in the AL Championship Series seemed inevitable.
Now, not so much.
Price, the 2012 Cy Young winner, is 1-2 with a 4.41 ERA since arriving in the Motor City; the Tigers have won only two of Price's five outings.
Max Scherzer, the 2013 Cy Young winner, has won 15 games and has a 3.26 ERA, but he was ultimately outdone by Chris Sale on Saturday despite being staked to a 3-0 first-inning lead; the Sox bats woke up to pummel Scherzer for six runs (five earned) before he departed with two outs in the seventh inning. After that ugly first inning, Sale limited the Tigers to just three hits over the next six innings while striking out 13 as the Sox triumphed 6-3.
Justin Verlander, the 2011 Cy Young winner, displayed some of his old form Friday night as he easily mowed down the Sox 7-1, but that leaves him with just a 12-11 record with an ERA of 4.68, which are not exactly Cy Young numbers.
The White Sox contributed to the playoff picture in another way on Saturday, dealing Alejandro De Aza to the Orioles for two minor-league pitching prospects. Like Dunn and Beckham, De Aza now has a chance to play in October.
De Aza performed here about as well as anyone might have expected. Because no one else could do it, he played a lot of centerfield a year ago and batted leadoff on a team that lost 99 games. When you consider the upgrade this season with Adam Eaton in center and hitting leadoff, you realize just how inadequate De Aza was.
De Aza hustled and got the most from his ability, but the last hit he got for the Sox on Friday night was a good illustration of his South Side career. With the Sox leading 1-0 in the bottom of the second, De Aza led off and ripped a Verlander delivery into the right-field corner. Torii Hunter retrieved the ball and fired a strike to Ian Kinsler who in turn fired a strike to Nick Castellanos to cut down De Aza foolishly trying for a triple.
Without question, De Aza was giving 100 percent. However, when Eaton lined a double an out later, it didn't take a sabermetrician to understand that the Sox could have had an early 2-0 lead if only De Aza had better judgement. Friday's gaffe was fitting. Mistakes - on the bases, in the field, and at the plate, where he struggled making adjustments - characterized De Aza's tenure here.
Nonetheless, we wish Beckham, Dunn, and De Aza the best. Each of them is now in a better place than being stuck on a team that completed August losing 18 of 27 games.
And truly, the Sox won't miss them. They are the (disappointing) past. The future will be built around Sale and Jose Abreu, who is remarkably in the Triple Crown hunt, as he leads the league in RBIs, is second in HRs and is fifth in batting average. If Eaton can stay healthy, he, too, will be a key piece. Alexei Ramirez remains stalwart and now we can finally see what Avisail Garcia can do, having come off the DL just in time to slide into the OF. Also, Paul Konerko's ceremonial roster spot will open up 30 days from now.
So it's onward for the White Sox.
In another song, Mose Allison sings that he doesn't worry about a thing because he knows everything will not be alright. You couldn't fault Sox fans for feeling just that way for the last month. Now, though, we can at least feel a little better knowing that next year has just begun and maybe, just maybe, sometimes plans do come together.
Roger Wallenstein is our man on the Sox. He welcomes your comments.
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