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Cubs & White Sox Report
by Tom Stryker - 04/30/2006
Depending upon what side of Chicago you like your baseball, the early spring has been either predictable or unexpected. On the South Side where the White Sox have perched themselves atop the American League Central after 20 games Chicago has a target on its back - just the way Manager Ozzie Guillen likes it. And, on the North Side, the Cubs have been finding help from surprising places while many of their top-name players are sidelined with injuries.
We will take a quick look today at the two Chicago teams as the season already has reached the one-eighth point.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Everyone is taking aim at the defending world champions, but if they are to find much success against the Sox, opponents will have to find ways to defeat one of the strongest starting pitching rotations in baseball.
The Sox have been very predictable - and very hot, chalking up a 14-6 start. The Sox already have reeled off one eight-game win streak - they hadnâ€™t won nine straight since 1977.
And look at their pitching. Jose Contreras is 3-0 with a 1.55 era. Mark Buehrle is 3-1 and 2.57. Javier Vazquez is 2-1 and 3.67. Even Jon Garland and Freddy Garcia are winning (2-1 and 3-1) despite struggling through the early season.
But donâ€™t thing the White Sox are a one-dimensional team. Six regulars are hitting over .300.
New addition Jim Thome already has paid dividends. He is hitting .333 with 9 homers and 21 RBI. Paul Konerko is at .370 with 6 homers and 19 RBI. Thome thinks the current Sox lineup is every bit as good - top to bottom - as the two Cleveland teams he played with that made it to the World Series in 1995 and 1997.
But Tadahito Iguchi (.308), Joe Crede (.304), A.J. Pierzynski (.358) and Jermain Dye (.328) all are giving Sox pitchers plenty of support.
Should the Sox stay healthy there is no reason to think they wonâ€™t be worth your money throughout the long summer.
Guillen thinks being a target keeps his club focused. And stopping the Sox will have to be on everyoneâ€™s mind during the the division chase this year.
Hang around. Hang around. Hang around.
That may be the Northsiders motto for a month or more, while many of their top payroll players rehab. The Cubs are at 12-8 at this juncture of the season - right in the middle of everything in the National League Central. But the fact they are on the winning side of the ledger is a surprise.
Mark Prior and Kerry Wood still have not pitched, Derek Lee is gone for several weeks, and catcher Michael Barrett is struggling with a sprained finger.
But help has come from surprising places. And the fact that the Cubs are anywhere but mired deep in the standings is a credit to people like Greg Maddux, Sean Marshall, Ronnie Cedeno and Todd Walker.
Maddux, at 40, is off to a 4-0 start and has a glittering 0.99 era. Sean Marshall, a lanky, 6-7, newcomer is 2-0. Cedeno, the new Cubs shortstop is hitting .308 and Walker, now playing first for the injured Lee, is at .339. The Cubs will need help from everywhere until healthy arms and hand (Lee) get back in the lineup.
Prior, still working into pitching shape in Arizona, faced batters for the first time and did well - with no soreness afterward in the strained muscle in his right shoulder.
Wood, however, is farther away from returning. His last outing - a bullpen session not against live batting - was cut short because of tightness on his right side.
For the Cubs to make any kind of challenge to St. Louis (and others), both have to be back for the second half of the season.
Cubsâ€™ third baseman Aramis Ramirez is off to a slow start (.206). With Lee gone, his big bat becomes essential for the Cubs, who will need plenty of offense to make up for the pitching deficiencies.
Through the first 20 games, the Cubs only had Walker and Cedeno above .300 (not counting Lee). That kind of bat work wonâ€™t be enough.