Slugger Paul Konerko has finally awoken from his first-half funk. AP
By Dan George, SI.com
So there the Royals are, minding their own business with a nice four-game lead in the American League Central, when the White Sox waltz right into Kauffman Stadium and sweep a three-game series.
Did we say sweep? That's like saying Gigli may come up a little short at Oscar time. The White Sox mauled the Royals by scores of 9-6, 15-4 and 8-6 last week, banging out 13 home runs along the way.
And now Jerry Manuel's crew gets a chance to do even more damage to Kansas City, which has watched a seven-game lead at the All-Star break melt to just two games over second-place Chicago with eight weeks to play.
The Royals and White Sox square off for three more games this week at U.S. Cellular Field, beginning Monday night.
Despite losses Saturday night and Sunday in Seattle, Chicago is on a roll, winning 14 of 18 games since the All-Star break and climbing to 11th in the SI.com Power Rankings. No. 9 Kansas City, meanwhile, is 8-9 over the same period and would appear to be ripe for the picking by the deeper, more talented Sox.
Well, maybe. And maybe not.
Chicago's big three of Esteban Loaiza (13-5, 2.27 ERA), Bartolo Colon (9-9, 3.94) and Mark Buehrle (9-11, 4.49) trumps the Royals' makeshift rotation led by injured Jose Lima (7-0, 2.96). And Paul Konerko's second-half resurgence (.350, six home runs, 20 RBIs since the break) certainly bodes well for the South Siders.
But the Royals expect cleanup man Mike Sweeney (out since June 19 with back and neck problems) back this week, they continue to pursue Texas Rangers slugger Juan Gonzalez in trade talks, and there's a strong chance former K.C. ace Kevin Appier, released last week by the Anaheim Angels, could re-sign with the Royals later this week.
But the biggest thing in Kansas City's favor? The schedule.
The Royals play just two teams with winning records in the final two months -- the White Sox and the Yankees. They're 4-5 against Chicago this season, 0-0 against New York. Other opponents include the Tigers (10-2), Indians (10-3) and Twins (8-4).
The White Sox, meanwhile, have two series against Yankees (0-0), two with the Red Sox (2-2), and one with the A's (2-4). Yes, they also get the Tigers and Indians -- but they're just 9-7 against Detroit and 8-8 against Cleveland.
So, yes, this week's series is a big one, but regardless of the outcome there's still plenty of baseball to play. Including Sept.19-21 in Chicago and Sept. 25-28 in Kansas City, when the Royals and White Sox play each other seven times in the season's final 10 days.
SI.com's Power Rankings
Atlanta Braves Marcus Giles had a much better week than brother Brian, getting nine consecutive hits over three games and raising his average 23 points to .320. Plus, nobody is trying to trade him to the Padres.
New York Yankees You heard about the Red Sox fan who told Joe Torre last month that given a choice between catching Saddam Hussein and beating the Yankees, he'd take beating the Yanks? Now the guy says he didn't know it was Torre. Probably explains why he called him Casey.
San Francisco Giants Felipe Alou was steamed when his son, Cubs outfielder Moises Alou, hit a three-run homer on an 0-2 fastball from Damian Moss. "He's an outstanding fastball hitter," Felipe said. "... I wouldn't throw him an 0-3 fastball with so many men on base."
Seattle Mariners Mariners wives have given birth to seven children this year -- all boys. The latest was by Jamie Moyer's wife. "I'll take it," Moyer said. "That's one less wedding I'll have to pay for." And me with three girls.
Boston Red Sox Most switch hitters use the same bat from both sides. Not Bill Mueller, who hit grand slams from both sides of the plate against the Rangers last week. He uses a Rawlings bat from the right side and a Louisville Slugger from the left. Is this the inside dope, or what?
Oakland Athletics Not everybody is impressed with Billy Beane's latest trade-deadline pickup, well-traveled Jose Guillen, who has a rep as selfish and temperamental. "Guillen is merely a younger version of Raul Mondesi," one NL official told The Daily News of New York. Ouch, that left a mark.
Philadelphia Phillies Sunday was Pat Burrell Bat Day at Veterans Stadium. Let's see: Bats, Philadelphia fans and guy hitting .196. Who thought up this promotion, Jerry Springer? Burrell's fourth-inning homer was the first one ever hit in self-defense.
Florida Marlins Before last Wednesday's 3-1 win over the Diamondbacks, Jack McKeon displayed a lineup card with the Cardinals' J.D. Drew batting fifth. Turns out it was a prank on reporters, whom he then asked to pull his finger.
Kansas City Royals When folks at a K.C. radio station heard that closer Mike MacDougal didn't have a bonus clause in his contract for making the All-Star team, they hit the streets and passed the hat. They got $154. MacDougal is expected to give it to charity. May we suggest the Dan George Daughters Wedding Fund?
Houston Astros Reliever Dan Miceli is only the second man to play for teams in four divisions in one season (Rockies, Indians, Yankees and Astros). He ties surly Dave Kingman, who'd probably still hold the record, except four divisions is all there were in 1977.
Chicago White Sox "If I was in their clubhouse, I would be concerned," White Sox infielder Jose Valentin said after the Sox bombed the Royals last week. "If we continue to swing like this, I think we'll take over the division." Where is that bulletin board, anyway?
St. Louis Cardinals Jim Edmonds' average has dropped from .316 to .297 since he injured his right shoulder during the All-Star home run derby, and he hasn't played since July 25. Geez, maybe Barry Bonds had the right idea, after all.
Arizona Diamondbacks "I don't think the division is out of the question at this point," Bob Brenly, recently told the East Valley Tribune. Hmmm, the D'backs trail the Giants by 12 games. Just us, or does this guy make Tony Robbins look suicidal?
Montreal Expos In a nonbinding resolution, they said they'd prefer to play their entire 2004 schedule in San Juan instead of any or all of their home games in Montreal. Sadly, nobody asked them about Washington, D.C.
Chicago Cubs After opening the fifth inning of his two-hitter against the Giants last week by hitting Andres Galararraga, Matt Clement struck out the next four batters on 12 consecutive pitches. We like to call it trivia.
Toronto Blue Jays Starter Kelvim Escobar can be a free agent after the season, but they'd prefer to re-sign him rather than trade him. "We told everybody that if we were going to do that," said GM J.P. Ricciardi, "they'd have to knock us over." Remember -- a gun makes it armed robbery.
Colorado Rockies They signed Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle to long-term deals totaling $172 million in 2000. Now Hampton is pitching for the Braves and Neagle is out until at least mid-2004 after elbow surgery. Two words: New Coke.
Minnesota Twins When Kenny Rogers has a bad outing, he punishes himself by running laps around the Metrodome. After following his 6.12 ERA in June with a 6.23 July, he's just about ready for a marathon.
Los Angeles Dodgers After a no-decision Wednesday left him winless in his past six starts, Kevin Brown said, "The tides of fortune are definitely not in our direction right now." Well, it was either Kevin Brown or Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
Baltimore Orioles Damian Moss is left-handed, just 26 years old and 21-13 with a 3.89 earned-run average in 50 major league starts. Yet he's been traded twice in less than a year, which may be a record for Australians.
Anaheim Angels Kevin Appier, released last week by the Angels with $15.67 million left on his contract, has been pitching with a sore elbow, says agent Jeff Borris. "This is the most expensive case of tendinitis in history," Borris said. Yes, that is the way you spell "tendinitis." We think.
Cincinnati Reds After he was fired last week, Bob Boone said, "I was told to start fast, get off to a good start and I should have said right then, 'Do you know how I might do that?'" A legitimate question -- Boone has managed parts or all of six years without a winning season.
Texas Rangers Alex Rodriguez says he'd be open to a trade if it would help the Rangers. Agent Scott Boras says he knows of four teams willing to take on A-Rod's $252 million contract. Uh huh. This is why Pinocchio never became an agent.
Cleveland Indians Say one thing, these guys can bunt. In last week's 3-2, 14-inning win over the Twins, they set a franchise record with five -- five! -- sacrifice bunts. Would have been nice, though, if someone had got a hit after the runners were in scoring position.
Milwaukee Brewers When they beat the Mets 6-3 last week, it marked their fourth straight victory at Shea Stadium -- a longer streak than the Mets have had in their own park this season. Winning streak, anyway.
New York Mets The Angels set a record when they swallowed Kevin Appier's salary, but it may not last long. Mo Vaughn will have about $17 million left on his six-year $80 million deal if the Mets decide to bite the bullet after this season. Gulp.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays They're 9-27 in day games, including 2-12 in day games after a victory the night before. Lou Piniella says he's going to start checking curfew. And if that doesn't work, somebody's getting a timeout.
San Diego Padres Rod Beck, who turned 35 Sunday, is 15 for 15 in save opportunities and needs 19 more for 300. Regular closer Trevor Hoffman, once thought to be out for the season, now could now be back within a month. We love coincidences.
Detroit Tigers When they allowed nine first-inning runs last week to the Mariners, it was the most they'd given up in the first since May 16, 1916. And Jeremy Bonderman has pretty much been pitching all year.