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Baseball
Stephen Cannella
May 07, 2001
Carrying a Big StickSoft-spoken Juan Gonzalez, healthy and happy again, is off to a loud start in Cleveland
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May 07, 2001

Baseball

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The perseverance and privation paid off. In January, Diamondbacks general manager Joe Garagiola Jr., impressed by the off-season efforts of a player he had pursued the previous two winters, offered Sanders a one-year, $1.5 million contract. It wasn't a jumbo payday for Sanders, who had made $3.7 million with Atlanta, but it wasn't peanuts either, and he bit at the chance for a fresh start. Sanders reported to spring training with a ripped 205 pounds on his 6'1" frame. "I added 15 pounds of muscle," he says. "I couldn't sit back and let last season repeat itself."

It almost did. After straining his right hamstring in spring training, Sanders opened the season on the DL and missed the first five games. While the inactivity was mainly a precaution, one couldn't blame Sanders for having flashbacks. "When you go through what I experienced last year, you take nothing for granted," he says. "I wanted to get out there and show these guys that I'm ready to contribute. There's still a lot I can do."
—Jeff Pearlman

Unraveling White Sox
A Cruel April in Chicago

Several teams who expected to contend for division titles—the A's, Braves, Cardinals, Mets, Yankees—sputtered in the season's first month. None of them, however, has stumbled as badly as the White Sox, who are struggling in every aspect of the game. Chicago, which won the American League Central and had the league's best record last season, was 8-15 through Sunday and trailed the first-place Twins by nine games. No team since the 1987 Tigers has won a division title after finishing April more than five games out of first place, and the Sox have shown few signs that they might buck that trend. Says one American League scout, "This team is in panic mode."

As expected, the Chicago rotation has been shaky—the starters were tied for pitching the third-fewest innings in the league, and their 5.68 ERA was third from the bottom. Things don't figure to get better soon: Righthander James Baldwin has been erratic in his two starts since returning from a shoulder injury, and lefthander Jim Parque (0-3, 8.04 ERA) was sent to the bullpen after complaining of a sore shoulder last week.

Last year the White Sox compensated for the deficiencies of their rotation with airtight relief pitching and a bludgeoning offense. This season's bullpen had the league's third-highest ERA (4.64), and the lineup had failed in an area it excelled in a year ago: getting on base. Chicago had the league's fourth-best on-base percentage, .356, in 2000; through Sunday that mark was a fifth-worst .311. Fewer base runners means fewer scoring opportunities. While the Sox were hitting a respectable .274 with runners in scoring position, only the Angels had fewer at bats in those situations.

If April's trends continue, the American League Central could witness a baseball first: the Twins going from worst to first, in the same season that the Sox go from first to worst.

On Deck
Broad St. Bully

May 4-6, Giants at Phillies Having reached the 500-career-home-run mark on April 17, San Francisco slugger Barry Bonds could get a leg up on the march to 600 in this series. He has hit 25 homers at Veterans Stadium, more than any other active major leaguer who has never played for Philadelphia. Plus, Bonds will probably get to face a favorite victim. In his 25 at bats against lefthander Omar Daal, the Phillies' likely starter on Sunday, Bonds has gone deep three times. Then again, Bonds must view any pitcher in a Phillies uniform as so much cheese steak. He has homered 56 times against Philadelphia, more than against any other team.

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