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Da White Sox
by Alex Ciepley
The Cubs shoot for their third win in a row, a "feat" they've only accomplished once this season so far. It won't be easy. Up next are the white hot White Sox, recipient of scorn for many Cubs fans--and perhaps some jealousy this year, as the Sox hold the best record in baseball. If you could have predicted that one Chicago team would be 29-12 at this point in the season, you'd likely be swimming in the bling if you'd picked the Sox over the Cubs.
In an effort to get to know this year's southern neighbors a bit better, Derek and I asked a few questions of The Cheat from South Side Sox.
Derek: I'm not a native Chicagoan, so I don't have the preternatural enmity toward the Sox that other Cub fans might, and I see a city and local media that in many ways give the South Side short shrift. So here's your chance to help rectify things by answering a simple question: Why should I, and the rest of Chicago for that matter, follow the White Sox more closely?
The Cheat: You shouldn't. As a Cubs fan, all you have to care about is your team. The Sox are only on the schedule for 6 games a year, and no matter how many games they win, they can't keep the Cubs from going to the playoffs... that's Dusty's job.
As for the rest of Chicago, the White Sox are, at the very least, entertaining. They play sound fundamental baseball, They're in every game, (The only loss by more than 3 runs was the Shingo meltdown during the opening series.) and they don't beat themselves. At the very most, they have an opportunity to be the type of team that Chicago hasn't had in 46 years, maybe even 88.
Alex: Continuing with the unappreciated-White-Sox theme, I've always been mystified that Frank Thomas isn't accorded the respect he deserves. Is it too simple to think that it's because his repertoire doesn't include hops, chest thumps, and two-fingered kisses at the camera?
The Cheat: I think there's more to it than just a show for the camera. He's actually proven that he can put on a facade for the camera in the last few years. His real problem lies in his relationship with the media. Like it or not, as a ball player, they represent you to the vast majority of fans. What they have to say and write about you is going to be hard to escape, good or bad. Look at Michael Jordan. That guy was Teflon, nothing stuck to him. Most of the media wouldn't let it.
Frank may not be the most affable guy, but I can say two things for certain. 1. In this era of supplements and more, there's no doubt in my mind that Frank has always been clean. 2. He's one helluva hitter. He's tailed off largely because of injuries the last few seasons, but for much of the '90s he was the most feared hitter in baseball.
Derek: The team's two biggest power threats are each hitting under .200, and not a single regular has an OPS over .800, yet the Sox are right in the middle of the pack in runs. How are they doing it?
The Cheat: Balance. The top of the order is getting on base at a very good clip, and the bottom of the order has produced about as well as any team in baseball. The middle of the order may not be hitting like they can yet, but for the most part, they've made the hits count. In the last few seasons, you'd often see the Sox win one game by 10+ runs only to struggle to scrape together one or two runs the next game. That just hasn't been the case this year. They've been very good at putting runs on the board early, and then playing with the lead.
Alex: Hey, want Matt Karchner back? What's up with Jon Garland these days, and do you think his early success is going to continue throughout the season?
The Cheat: I didn't want Karchner back in August of 1998. That trade was a win for the White Sox as soon as Garland cracked the bigs as the youngest player in baseball back in 2000.
Garland's been amazing this season. He's a completely different pitcher. His change up is baffling lefties. His fastball and sinker have more life. He's not afraid to pound the zone. I could go on and on. Can he continue this performance? He's not going to go 33-0, that's for sure. However, his last two outings have told me that he really has turned a corner. In both cases, late in the game with just a 1-run lead and the tying runner on third, Garland went to his best stuff off the inside of the plate and got Tejada, Blalock, and Soriano to strikeout. The old Garland would have pissed down his leg in both instances.
Cub Town: What's your prediction for the series?
The Cheat: Ugh. I'm an optimist at heart, but I could never bet on the White Sox. Every series this year, I take a look at the pitching match ups and I say to myself, "I don't like the way this stacks up." Interestingly, the two series where I really liked our match ups (Oakland and Tampa Bay) have been the only series we've lost.
That being said, Dusty has juggled his order, and Ozzie's sending two guys out there (Garcia and El Duque) who just got rocked last time out. The third Sox hurler is your typical Jeckle & Hyde head case. I certainly won't be placing any money on the Sox walking away with a series victory this weekend. Take that for what it's worth.