Will Francisco Liriano Give White Sox the AL Central Edge?

James KriesContributor IAugust 6, 2012

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 05: Starting pitcher Francisco Liriano #58 of the Chicago White Sox delivers the ball against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at U.S. Cellular Field on August 5, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

With the Detroit Tigers still keeping pace with the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central, the acquisition of left-handed pitcher Francisco Liriano was an important move, giving the White Sox an edge over their division rivals.

According to ESPNChicago, the White Sox traded infielder Eduardo Escobar and pitching prospect Pedro Hernandez to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for Liriano, just days before the July 31 trade deadline.

Liriano has already made contributions for the White Sox, who had to rest starter Chris Sale last week and have to do without starter John Danks' services for the remainder of the season. According to the Washington Post, it was announced last week that Danks will require surgery, ending any hopes of Danks pitching again this season.

In two starts since being traded to the White Sox, Liriano has looked solid. In 11 innings, Liriano has a 2.45 earned run average to go along with a 1.18 WHIP. Liriano did not earn a decision in either start and had to leave Sunday's game with a leg contusion.

Before his early exit Sunday after only 72 pitches, Liriano had pitched well. He had yielded only four hits and one earned run, while striking out four Angels batters. MLB.com reports that Liriano should be on track for his next start, despite his injury.

Liriano has already filled a short-term need for the White Sox following Chris Sale's skipped start last week. The White Sox have won four of their last five, and Sale is set to return to the mound Monday against the Kansas City Royals, apparently healthy and well-rested.

With a little more than 50 games still left to be played this season, does Liriano's presence give the White Sox a decided edge over the Tigers?

The White Sox have weathered the Tigers' recent hot streak by holding on to first place. Since the All-Star break, the Tigers hold a 14-8 record. They have beaten the Indians four out of six games during that stretch, virtually ending the Indians' chances of competing for the division crown.

That leaves the White Sox and Tigers left in this division race, with both team stocking up on veteran talent prior to the trade deadline.

While the White Sox made three separate trades bringing Kevin Youkilis, Brett Myers and Liriano to Chicago, the Tigers were less active, only making one major deal which brought Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez to Detroit.

The White Sox did not give up any starters in their three trades, and Liriano's healthy arm should help give some extra days of rest to Sale, Jake Peavy and Gavin Floyd.

While Peavy continues to pitch well for the White Sox this season, Floyd continues to struggle. Floyd barely made it out of the first inning during Saturday's extra-inning loss to the Angels, throwing 40 pitches and giving up three runs in the first inning.

Liriano has not lived up to the promise of his rookie season when he made the 2006 All-Star game while winning 12 games with a 2.16 ERA that season.

Since having surgery on his arm late in 2006, Liriano had been inconsistent while pitching for Minnesota, posting a 4.65 ERA in 124 games since the beginning of the 2008 season.

With a dismal 3-10 record and 5.31 ERA this season with the Twins, prior to his trade to Chicago, Liriano continued his career inconsistency following his rookie season.

By joining the first-place White Sox, it is hoped that the intensity of a division race should spark Liriano who still has the stuff to be a front-line pitcher.

Before leaving Sunday's game as a precaution following a batted ball striking his leg, Liriano was pitching well with a live arm and good velocity. According to BrooksBaseball.net, Liriano hit 94 on the radar gun with his fastball, while his four-seamer averaged 93 mph.

With seven games still remaining against the second-place Tigers this season, it's important for Liriano to continue pitching well for the White Sox. The Tigers offense has heated up in recent weeks, and left-handed slugger Prince Fielder will be an imposing figure in the heart of the Detroit lineup.

According to Baseball-Reference.com, in 96 plate appearances against left-handed hitters, Liriano has allowed only one home run this season, while lefties have hit only .202 against him.

Liriano has allowed 11 homers to right-handed hitters, however, and his 1.1 homers-per-nine-innings ratio is his highest since 2009. One of his greatest strengths is his ability to keep the ball in the park, and this should be a key advantage for the White Sox down the stretch, especially in games at U.S. Cellular Field, a hitter's park.

In a short sample size since joining the White Sox, Liriano's results have been positive, and based on his recent performances with Minnesota and the White Sox, Liriano should give the team an edge if he continues to pitch well this season, as he has since coming to Chicago.