Talk about stark turnarounds.
After finishing the 2015 season in the cellar in both of their respective divisions, the Chicago White Sox (18-8) and the Boston Red Sox (15-10) have soared to garner the top spot in each of their respective divisions as the page turns to May, with the two squads prepping to face off in their first meeting of the season at U.S. Cellular Field in the South Side of Chicago for a three-game set which begins on Tuesday night.
Red Sox ride bats to strong start
For the Red Sox, winners of six of their last seven games and nine of their last 12 contests overall, the backbone of their surge to first place in the AL East has undoubtedly been their impressive performance at the plate.
Thus far, Boston has piloted the American League in runs per game with a stellar average of 5.36 and runs scored with 134, underlining their ability to place runners on the base paths in a hurry while possessing the capability to harness the key base knock when necessary.
The Red Sox team on-base percentage of .347 and batting average of .285 has pioneered the American League thus far as well, while their slugging percentage has ranked second and their 67 doubles towers over the Detroit Tigers second-place total of 41 doubles in that category, all despite smashing just 21 home runs to date.
Boston also has cemented their reputation as a team with a penchant for reaching the scoreboard early and often, with first-inning tallies coming in eight of their last 11 games, putting many starting pitchers behind the eight-ball with runs right out of the starting gate.
Third baseman Travis Shaw has strangled hold possession of the starting nod over the injured Pablo Sandoval while hitting .322 with a .923 OPS, three long balls, and 17 RBI, while 2008 AL MVP second baseman Dustin Pedroia has resurrected his standing with a league-leading .324 batting average and 35 hits and designated hitter David Ortiz has kicked off his farewell tour with a bang, hitting five home runs while garnering 19 RBI and a .417 OBP.
White Sox showcasing lights-out pitching
While Chicago's mark of 102 total runs and a .244 batting average has placed them in the middle of the pack in the AL batting-wise, their pitching has been lights-out over the first month of the season to propel them to their current standing.
The team's staff ERA of 2.65 leads the league by a wide margin and towers over the Red Sox dismal mark of 4.26. The White Sox have allowed the least amount of earned runs in the league (68), thrown the most shutouts (five), and allowed the lowest opponent's OBP (.290) and slugging (.331).
Three of the seven lowest ERA holders in the AL are White Sox starters (Jose Quintana, Chris Sale, and Mat Latos), with Sale staking the claim to the most miniscule WHIP in the league (0.81) and the most strikeouts (38) while becoming the first leftie since the illustrious Randy Johnson in 2002 to record a 6-0 record through May 1.
Fortunately for the Red Sox, they will be forced to encounter neither Sale nor the 4-0 Latos. However, Quintana, owner of the fourth-lowest ERA in the AL (1.47), a WHIP of 1.11, 32 strikeouts, and a 3-1 record, will pace the mound to begin the series on Tuesday night.
Quintana will be matched up against a viable suitor, knuckleballer Steven Wright of the Red Sox. With the likes of front-of-the-rotation guys such as Clay Buchholz (0-5) beginning the season on a sore foot, Wright has stepped up in momentous fashion, flashing the second-lowest ERA in the AL (1.37) through four starts in which he has amounted a 2-2 record, 25 strikeouts, and just 19 hits in 26.1 innings of work.
Carson Smith to make season debut
Look out for a pitcher's duel on Tuesday, and should Wright struggle, the Red Sox should have some added ammunition in the bullpen if necessary.
Boston made room for right-hander Carson Smith, acquired in an offseason deal from the Seattle Mariners, following their 8-7 win over the New York Yankees on Sunday night by optioning infielder Marco Hernandez to Triple-A Pawtucket.
Smith was dealt for by the Red Sox with the hope that he could transition into a setup role for closer Craig Kimbrel, and Boston fans could finally get a taste of what he has to offer over the course of the series.