DETROIT — Trying to figure out how the Chicago White Sox are going to fare in the postseason?
The White Sox themselves, long a mighty confident bunch, are having trouble predicting how things will go once the calendar flips to October. Their .500 play since the All-Star break has featured championship-level highs and head-scratching lows, a weak group of division rivals unable to do much to consistently test a team that will go up against the American League's best with its season on the line.
And those of us who have watched them the closest have no clue either, the White Sox' inconsistent play showing a team capable of beating anybody one night and a team incapable of mustering much fight, regardless of the opponent, another.
The White Sox were expected to feast on sub-.500 competition in September — six straight games against Oakland and Boston aside, during which they went 3-3 — following a challenging stretch in August. But after dropping their second straight game in Detroit on Tuesday afternoon, they're 8-10 this month, with wins in just two of their last seven games as they've reached the doorstep of clinching their first AL Central title in 13 years.
What does that mean for October, though?
"You never know what to expect," White Sox starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel said Tuesday. "It's kind of like, 'Hey, flip a coin (to find out) what's going to happen.' Are we going to come out really strong, like we know we can? Or are we going to come out and not put all three phases of the game together? I don't know. I'd like to say I've seen a lot, but I know I haven't seen it all. When that time comes, I know we'll try our best, but I would like to see all three phases put together."
"I don't know. I'm not really a fortune teller, so I can't really tell you how it will transfer over on to the postseason," White Sox catcher Yasmani Grandal told NBC Sports Chicago's Maddie Lee on Sunday. "The one thing about the postseason is you just want to take it, you want a chance at being the last team standing. You never know what's going to happen."
Keuchel and Grandal are two of the White Sox' most experienced postseason players, two guys brought in two offseasons ago to help get this team to and through the playoffs. And they're left wondering what will happen.
For the longest time, it seemed the thing that carried the White Sox to this point would be their biggest strength in the postseason. The starting pitching was downright dominant for so long, and it looked like Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn, Carlos Rodón and Dylan Cease could stack up as the most menacing rotation in baseball.
But now Rodón is experiencing enough shoulder soreness to have the White Sox concerned about his immediate future, the team working to get him ready for one final regular-season start that can inform them of his status for October. Considering that when he's been on the mound he's pitched like a Cy Young-caliber pitcher, that's a big deal — and potentially a big hole punched in the White Sox' rotation.
Meanwhile, Keuchel's struggles continue. Even in his last two efforts, in which he's logged 11 innings and given up five runs, he's been forced to dissect losing efforts, if not by him personally, by the team. A month ago, it seemed he'd be the odd man out of the playoff rotation, but Rodón's sore shoulder brings the possibility back that Keuchel could once more see playoff action. That wouldn't inspire a ton of confidence in fans who have watched him post a ghastly 5.18 ERA.
But the rotation still seems capable of delivering. It's the bullpen and the offense that should cause greater stress over the White Sox' chances in October.
Craig Kimbrel hasn't been able to shake his bumpy transition from the North Side to the South Side and owns an ugly 5.68 ERA in a White Sox uniform. Just Monday he gave up the go-ahead run in another imperfect outing. As good as Aaron Bummer has looked during a second-half resurgence, he faced two hitters Tuesday and retired neither, giving up a two-run single and only ending the seventh inning thanks to an out on the base paths.
The greatest inconsistencies, though, have come offensively, where the White Sox have seemingly written the script for how a game is going to go: When they score four runs or more, they are 71-16. When they score three runs or fewer, they are 14-50.
That might seem to make perfect sense, to come as little surprise, but it's that the runs and the wins haven't come in bunches. At times, it almost seems as if the White Sox alternate between offensive juggernaut, with all their big boppers on display, and a quiet, mystified group, wondering how such a collection of hitters can come up so empty time and time again.
And they sometimes seem to be swinging wildly between the two extremes on a nightly basis. We know the White Sox are capable of mashing against just about any opponent. But then they show us days like Tuesday, when they stranded 13 against the Tigers, and we're the mystified ones.
None of that seems to be a good recipe for winning a playoff series, of course. But all the pieces are still there.
As Keuchel said, he'd like to see all three phases of the game — hitting, pitching and defense — come together. The White Sox can at least say they have three phases, which is preferable to missing one or more entirely.
But they're running out of time to establish consistency before they hit the postseason. If they can't, then you're guess at how they'll do come playoff time will be as good as Keuchel's, as good as Grandal's.
"Until the playoffs start, I'm not going to stay we are done for by any means," Keuchel said. "It's just one of those things where one or two things aren't going our way."