In the parity-ridden AL Central, the White Sox have a shot
Posted: Monday July 07, 2003 9:26 PM
Updated: Monday July 07, 2003 9:26 PM
The White Sox expect Alomar to play like a 12-time All-Star. AP
By Dan George, SI.com
What's the difference between parity and mediocrity? Well, in the American League Central, virtually nothing.
This is a division that the Minnesota Twins were expected to dominate, and rightly so. No other AL Central team is as talented, but for whatever reason -- oh yeah, an underwhelming starting rotation -- the Twins have been extraordinarily ordinary.
That's opened the door for Tony Pena and his gritty if modestly gifted Kansas City Royals, whose 3 ½-game lead over the second-place Twins is kind of like David Arquette marrying Courtney Cox. You just have to wonder: How'd they do that?
And now suddenly lurking in the shadows are the Chicago White Sox. Jerry Manuel's team is a ho-hum 43-44 -- and No. 20 in this week's Power Rankings -- but in the AL Central that makes you a player. The Sox entered the week in third place, a mere 4 ½ games off the pace.
But the Sox have trimmed four games off their AL Central deficit over the past three weeks and GM Kenny Williams, dealing for second baseman Robbie Alomar and outfielder Carl Everett last week, obviously feels they can win the division.
And they might. Buehrle has returned to ace-like form (5-2, 3.44 ERA since the start of June) while right-hander Esteban Loaiza (11-4, 2.28) has been perhaps the majors' most surprising starter from the outset. But it probably comes down to Alomar and Everett. How much will they help?
Alomar's 1½ seasons with the Mets were a nightmare for everyone involved, and opinions are mixed whether the 35-year-old switch-hitter will wake up on the South Side. Some believe a return to the AL -- and being reunited with his brother Sandy Jr. -- will be just what he needs. Others say his offensive skills have faded.
The historically moody Everett, meanwhile, is now with his sixth team in 11 seasons, although by all accounts he was a model citizen with the Rangers, where he hit .274 with 18 homers and 51 RBIs. He'll play center field in Chicago, although some suspect he's lost a step or two too many for that position.
In any event, the future is now for the White Sox, who could lose Alomar, Everett, Loaiza, reliever Tom Gordon and starter Bartolo Colon to free agency after this season. And the pressure is on.
It's a curious position for Manuel. Just a few weeks ago, he topped just about everybody's list of managers most likely to be fired next.
Of course, if the Sox come up short, he could be right back up there.
SI.com's Power Rankings
Seattle Mariners Seventy-three AL hitters have more home runs than Ichiro Suzuki's seven, but teammates who watch him muscle up in BP swear he could win the All-Star Home Run Derby. Sure, Ichiro. Just make sure you pick up the right bat.
Atlanta Braves Their once-proud pitching staff has now lost games this year by scores of 20-1, 17-1 and 16-2. That blur over there in the dugout is Leo Mazzone.
San Francisco Giants After going deep against Barry Zito and Jason Isringhausen, Barry Bonds has homered off pitchers whose last names begin with every letter in the alphabet except U and X. There's never been a big leaguer whose last name began with X -- but you have to think Ugueth Urbina feels like a marked man.
New York Yankees Remember those "personal reasons" Bubba Trammell cited for leaving the team last month? Turns out they were concerns about lack of playing time. Curiously, they coincided with Joe Torre's concerns about Trammell's talent.
Boston Red Sox They're on pace to score more than 1,000 runs this season, despite Johnny Damon's record-low .320 on-base percentage. Stephen King's even writing a book about it: The Girl Who Fanned Johnny Damon.
Philadelphia Phillies In a Sports Illustrated poll of 550 major leaguers, 16 percent said Larry Bowa was the game's worst manager. "I couldn't care less," Bowa said. Now how's that double-switch thing work again?
Oakland Athletics They'd like to trade for a hard-throwing reliever, a right-handed pinch-hitter and a leadoff man so Eric Byrnes can move to the middle of the order. But whenever GM Billy Beane's phone rings these days, it's always someone asking if he has Prince Albert in a can.
Kansas City Royals A month ago, Jose Lima was pitching for the independent Newark Bears. Now the 30-year-old right-hander is 4-0 with a 3.06 ERA for the Royals. And, of course, he's out of Newark.
Arizona Diamondbacks During their winning streak, they went 16 consecutive games without facing an opposing starter who had a winning record and an ERA under 6.00. Who says the major league talent pool is diluted?
Montreal Expos How about Frank Robinson going off after Korean starter Sun-Woo Kim was knocked around last week? Asked if he planned to give Kim another start, Robinson said, "Do I look insane? Do I look like I want to be tortured?" Happily, everyone recognized them as rhetorical questions.
Los Angeles Dodgers Odalis Perez said the Dodgers' hitting woes were putting too much pressure on the pitching staff. Then he went out and combined with Eric Gagne on a 2-0 victory over the Diamondbacks. C'mon, Odalis, make up your mind.
Toronto Blue Jays The Toronto Star created a stir last week by reporting that 36 percent of the 39 players that GM J.P. Ricciardi has acquired since November 2001 -- 92 percent -- are white. Unmentioned, sadly, was that Ricciardi has also showed a tragic bias toward right-handed players.
St. Louis Cardinals When Tony La Russa praised the Cards for entering the weekend tied for first place in the NL Central, outfielder Eduardo (Yes, I Own a Calendar) Perez noted, "It's not September. It's definitely not even August."
Minnesota Twins When outfielder Torii Hunter heard about the White Sox trades, he said, "Oh, my goodness, I'm going to have a heart attack. We need to step it up because those guys over there are stepping it up. Dawg, that's a wake-up call." Oh, my goodness? And you call yourself a major leaguer.
Houston Astros Eleven Astros pitchers have made at least one start this year, and no one has won more than seven games. But why be negative? Only five of those 11 have failed to win even one start.
Anaheim Angels En route to winning the World Series, they came from behind 43 times, including 22 times in their last at-bat. This season, the Angels have won just once in their final at-bat. Too bad we used a Rally Monkey joke last week.
Chicago Cubs We don't want to say Antonio Alfonseca is struggling, but he needs both hands to count the number of hits he's given up over his past five innings. That's right -- 12.
Colorado Rockies Do the baseball gods -- hey, you worship at your church, we'll worship at ours -- have it in for these guys or not? They finally get a pitcher who actually deserves to be in the All-Star Game, and a bad elbow costs 11-game winner Shawn Chacon his berth in Chicago.
Florida Marlins Left fielder Miguel Cabrera recently started working out at first base. Luckily for Derrek Lee, there's never been a better time for someone to buy his house. Mortgage rates are at their lowest level in years!
Chicago White Sox Earlier this season, Carl Everett was struck by a cellphone thrown from the stands. Last week, he was traded to a team that plays its home games in U.S. Cellular Field. Ooooo-weeeee-oooo.
Cincinnati Reds GM Jim Bowden was asked what the Reds were looking for in the trade market. "Starting pitching is our first, second and third priority," he said. Geez, you'd never know they already have Ryan Dempster.
Baltimore Orioles Sidney Ponson is one guy on the Reds' list. At least that would get him away from the Yankees. Against New York, Sir Sid looks like the Black Knight -- Monty Python's Black Knight. 0-8 and 5.20 ERA? Just a flesh wound!
New York Mets John Franco was moaning about being swept by the Yankees. "You look at our infield, we have three rookies. The Yankees have an All-Star at every position and a 300-game winner on the mound. It's tough to compete against that." Forty-two-year-old situational lefties who make $3.8 million a year don't help, either.
Pittsburgh Pirates One of the mysteries of 2003 is how Mike Williams – make that NL All-Star Mike Williams -- has converted 24 of 28 save opportunities. "He's sort of the poor man's closer," says manager Lloyd McClendon. "He's got a big heart." Well, sure. How else is he going to lug around that 6.29 ERA?
Cleveland Indians You want schizophrenic? Of course not, but that's the only way to describe Casey Blake's recent road trip. He began with seven RBIs in a double-header sweep of the Royals and finished with seven RBIs in a 13-2 win over the Twins. In between? One-for-15.
Milwaukee Brewers The good news is that Scott Podsednik leads all NL rookies with a .323 batting average and 18 stolen bases. The bad news is that he's bringing back memories of the Brewers' last Rookie of the Year, Pat Listach.
Texas Rangers Owner Tom Hicks let Alex Rodriguez have some say in the baseball draft. A-Rod's list of candidates -- oh, you're not going to believe this -- included clients belonging to his agent, Scott Boras.
San Diego Padres After they swept the Dodgers in L.A., Tommy Lasorda visited manager Bruce Bochy. "Take those '27 Yankees with you," he said. "Get the hell out of here.'" Oh, that Tommy.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays They win three games in a row, and Lou Piniella follows through on a promise to dye his hair blond. Lord help us if they really get hot. Nobody wants to see a navel ring on a 59-year-old man.
Detroit Tigers Despite protests from AL pitchers, Bobby Higginson went on the DL with a bad left hamstring and a sciatic nerve problem in his back last week. The 32-year-old outfielder is hitting a career-low .235 and has one extra-base hit since May 26.