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There may only be disappointment in Chicago today, as the Bulls' NBA Championship dreams were stopped cold by the Miami Heat. This latest letdown comes not long after the Blackhawks failed to make it past the first stage of the playoffs, and both our baseball teams have more or less limped through the first couple months of their seasons.

Yet, there may be reason to be happy in Mudville. I will gloss the two most disappoint baseball players in town right now (Adam Dunn and Aramis Ramirez) and cut to the top 10 reasons why we should feel good about baseball in Chicago right now:

1) Neither team is really out of contention: The White Sox are 8.5 games back and in third place, while the Cubs are in fifth, but only 6.5 games back.

2) The Cubs can score: Sure, they have been unable to solve Kevin Correia and the Pittsburgh Pirates yet again, but for the most part they string together hits like crazy for a team now running mostly on youth and whose best power hitter (A-Ram) is once again powerless. Even Carlos Pena is hitting better than last year, though not by much.

3) The Sox can pitch: The bullpen woes of April are mostly a thing of the past, and the starters, most surprisingly Phil Humber and this new call-up Jake Peavy, are delivering. Even the winless John Danks pitched great last time out.

4) Tony Campana and Reed Johnson: Their bats will definitely cool off, but the dirty uniform club sure is fun to watch right now. Campana seems like a threat to beat out any grounder, and Johnson knows his core audience sits right behind him.

5) Carlos Quentin, Alex Rios, Alexei Ramirez: The Sox quiet bats have ruined many a game for them, but these three in particular have each had stellar individual performances in the last week or so, with CQ's 3-HR game being the highlight. One of these games, they're all going to click on the same night and the Sox will score about 17 runs.

6) Jeff Samardzija: I can't believe I just wrote that, but the guy has been delivering out of the bullpen. I guess we'll have to put up with the hair.

7) Sergio Santos: For a guy who wasn't supposed to be the closer, he is doing everything he can to keep things locked down in the 9th inning.

8) Darwin Barney: Get that RoY award ready. With the exception of a few dumb errors, he has been terrific at the plate and in the field. He and Starlin Castro have gotten the Daily Double tag for this year. Is it too early to say Barney is Scottie Pippen to Castro's MJ? Probably...

9) Ozzie Guillen: He has survived what now looks like a brief stretch of very ugly play by the Sox, and has stayed out of trouble himself. What more can you ask?

10) The weather: It can't get any worse, right? C'mon summer! We're pullin' for ya!


First place finish

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The White Sox reached first place in the A.L. Central Division on the final day of the first half of the season before All-Star Break. Now, they just need to repeat for the next half.

A 15-5 victory of the Royals today featured a franchise record-tying four homers in one inning. Carlos Quentin had two homers on the day, including a grand slam, making it four for him within the last 24 hours. He can keep hitting below .250 as far as I'm concerned if he keeps knocking homers with men on base.

Dayan Viciedo also hit a monsterous homerun almot all the way to the left field concourse. He is looking more and more like this year's Gordon Beckham, a rookie addition making a huge contribution.

It remains to be seen if the Sox will make a trade within the next few weeks to increase their chances of holding onto first place. Daniel Hudson did not do well today at all, even though the Sox gave him an 8-1 lead, but if you believe Ozzie Guillen, Hudson will get a good, long look as the fifth starter. On the other hand, if you believe more in Kenny Williams fidgety trade fingers, the Sox may add to the rotation through a trade sooner rather than later.

As I've said before, I'm hope for a trade for a power-hitting lefty DH, if anything, and I don't want the Sox to give up Beckham to make it happen.

In other news, Paul Konerko is headed to the All-Star game as a replacement.

So much to talk about, so little time...

--The White Sox have a 10-game winning streak, reportedly their longest since 1976 (?!), and everything is clicking. Even Gordon Beckham homered yesterday in the Sox-Cubs crosstown clash at The Cell. Excellent pitching and just enough hitting allowed the Sox to sweep the first-place Atlanta Braves earlier this week, which should convince many that the streak is for real, and not just a hot run against cold teams (though playing the Cubs twice in two weeks really helps).

--Carlos Quentin is still punishing pitchers, homering yesterday off Carlos Zambrano, but it's even better to see him driving singles up the middle and to the opposite field. It's 2008 all over again.

--Jake Peavy had his third straight strong outing, though again, two of those have been against the Cubs and the third against another the National League foe, so it remains to be seen if he can deliver against the American League.

--The Zambrano tirade is all over the place, so I won't get into the details, but his most recent meltdown into Zammy the Clown has many people demanding and believing that Zambrano's days are over as a Cub. How that will happen remains to be seen. The Cubs once again have held onto damaged goods for far too long, and (as with Milton Bradley) are forced to try to move a player who is suspended. Who will want him? (Even the Mets have to be shaking their heads...)

I'm not saying Zambrano didn't deserve to be suspended. It was the only remaining option. It's unfortunate because it leaves the already sad-sack Cubs a man down. And, it only reminds us that GM Jim Hendry should have tried to move Zambrano long ago, when teams like the Mets were still interested and their praise could have convinced Zambrano to wave his no-trade option.

I don't think Zambrano's days as a Cub are over. I think he will apologize and will be allowed to come back to the team--but only long enough for Hendry to move the once-promising (always promising, it seems) pitcher to another team, probably for a couple of iffy minor leaguers.

There are further implications to consider after this episode: Lou Piniella, I fear, has lost his team. They are not just bad, and behaving badly--they are unresponsive. With the exception of Marlon Byrd, who is a true gamer, they are a lackluster group. Zambrano's tirade yesterday apparently was aimed partly at Derrek Lee for not diving at a ball hit down the line by Juan Pierre, and while Lee's resume is impeccable and Zambrano's criticism questionable, Lee has not been the same strong fielder lately that he was earlier in the season and throughout his career. You could say the same of the entire error-prone group, of course.

The Cubs, like it or not, may be headed for a rebuilding. That project should start with Piniella's dismissal.

The Sox are back (?)

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The White Sox have won seven of nine games behind improved pitching and some lively hitting from Carlos Quentin and others. Good signs of things to come? Maybe...

The Sox pitching staff was impressive against the Cubs over the weekend, but the Cubs have been pretty woeful of late. This week, they beat up Pittsburgh, but everybody does that (well, except for the Cubs).

More promising is that CQ has been pounding the ball recently, and while Gordon Beckham continues to disappoint and Mark Teahen is injured, it's Quentin's role in the line-up that is most significant for the Sox in taking more advantage of stellar seasons thus far from Alex Rios and Paul Konerko. If the meat of the line-up is getting on base and driving in runs, that should be enough for Sox pitchers like Mark Buehrle and Gavin Floyd, each of whom looked good in their last outing. And, amazingly, Freddy Garcia is still vexing everyone.

Unfortunately, Jake Peavy continues to be a source of stress, annoyance and disappointment. The dreaded "shoulder problems" issue has come up, for now only pushing back a start, but we'll see. Peavy actually has tried hard through a tough season to contribute to team unity and motivation, but the Sox need his arm, not his coaching abilities.

Meanwhile, a winning streak and some good vibes could go a long way toward mitigating the supposed tension between GM Kenny Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen. There have been almost daily reports about how the two don't need to get along to win, or that they actually do get along--whatever... Just win, baby.

Ups and downs up north

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Went to Wrigley today for this first time this season, and will have a post on that tomorrow...

For now, a look at the White Sox, still in Toronto (Still?), where a brilliant extra-inning win was followed by almost being no-hit, which was followed by John Danks and a crushing offensive effort shutting down the Blue Jays 11-1, which was followed tonight by, you guessed it, a 7-3 loss.

Will the real Chicago White Sox please stand up?

The 11-1 victory further showcased Andruw Jones, who had three hits and his third homerun of the year and is looking like a more frequent starter than anyone expected. Carlos Quentin also kept up his hot streak with a grand slam. The line-up delivered 15 hits overall. Danks didn't give up a hit until the fifth inning.

But, the bats took the night off tonight. It was nice that Donny Lucy got his first career homer, and Alexei "formerly the Cuban Missile" Ramirez hit his first homerun amid what has been another lackluster start for him. But, Jones, Quentin and Paul Konerko were hitless.

Splitting a four-game series in Toronto isn't a bad thing, but the next time the Sox have an 11-1 drubbing or an 8-7 extra-innings comeback, they need to bottle it.

Skinny Soto

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It seemed like the biggest news to come out of last weekend's Cubs Convention was that catcher Geovany Soto lost almost 40 pounds in the last three months or so. That's a great move for a hefty player (though really he was only averaged-sized by catcher standards) who was nagged by injuries all of last year.

You could often see last year when Geo was struggling that he was still trying draw walks and make opposing pitchers burn through their pitch counts. He actually wasn't much of a power hitter until his Rookie of the Year 2008 season, when he had 23 homers, so with some of the bulk gone, it seems likely will see him slapping out a few more hits and pounding out fewer homers, and that's just fine. Just keep the line moving.

After a .218 season in 2009, it was tempting to wonder if Geo was going to be one of those one-year-wonders quickly broken down by the physical demands of working behind the plate. But, he's a smart hitter already, and now, hopefully, more durable.

Meanwhile, a blogger at ChicagoNOW, Rock Mamola from The Score, is already asking the question that sadly comes to mind in this era of steroids revelations: How did Geo lose the weight, and where did it--and his sudden power in 2007 and 2008--come from in the first place?

In White Sox news, SoxFest is coming up this weekend. The Sox signed closer Bobby Jenks and outfielder/probable DH Carlos Quentin to high-priced (but not high-risk) one-year deals, thus avoiding arbitration in both cases. Solid starter John Danks and disappointing reliever Tony Pena are still arb-eligible.

Maybe Geo can share some of his weight loss tips with Jenks. That would make Ozzie happy.

C.Q. is back, B.A. is gone

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Carlos Quentin officially is back from the disabled list, and to answer your next question, yes, Brian Anderson was indeed sent down to the minors to make room for him. In recent games, as B.A.'s average has again headed south while Scott Podsednik was still managing to somehow channel the 2005 version of himself, it has become clear that Pods would move over to centerfield when C.Q. returned.

At least, that's what we think is happening. Tonight's line-up for the first of four games against last year's hated play-off foe, the Rays, was not yet posted as of this writing. Maybe we'll also see a variation in coming games with C.Q. DH-ing against lefties, though Jim Thome has been hot enough lately, hasn't he?

Athlete's foot

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Carlos Quentin has plantar fasciitis (two "i"s, according to Yahoo! Sports), which Bulls fans may remember pretty much derailed Andres Nocioni's career playing basketball in Chicago. By all accounts, it's a heinous condition that is either addressed by surgery and a very long lay-off, or by playing through the pain until something "pops," as it did with CQ. Unfortunately, this also involves a long lay-off.

When Quentin came to town, he had promise, but also injury problems. First, we saw the promise being fulfilled, and since late last season, the injury part has taken over. Is it too early to wonder if he will ever hit more than 30 homeruns again? Probably, but for now, his time out of the line-up means one less power option for the Sox and the loss of a pretty effective No. 3 hitter. It looks like Jermaine Dye will fill the slot for the most part.

JeDye has been doing OK, hitting around .280. Paul Konerko is the only regular in the line-up now who is still hitting over .300, which is surprising, considering he looked to be entering gradual career breakdown last year. Last night against the Angels, he was responsible for driving in the Sox' only run with a sacrifice fly (scoring Dye).

Pitching continues to be the real story for the Sox: Gavin Floyd turned in his second straight strong performance and the latest in a string of strong performances, as Sox starters haven't given up more than 3 ER in a game since May 17, when Floyd got shelled for 6 ER in 5 IP. Floyd lost this one 3-1, only making a couple of mistakes, both run-scoring double in the 6th inning. He threw a complete game.

With Quentin gone for a while and the offense rarely piling up runs like the 17-run effort in Anaheim this week, the Sox will need more of the same from the rest of the rotation.

24 good reasons for 17 runs

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The Sox won two of three with strong pitching and just enough offense in the right spots before they left for one of those nerve-racking West Coast road trips (albeit a quick one, to play the Angels). Generally speaking, the Sox have had a ton of offensive trouble this year, and the Angels have put together some strong pitching outings.

What a surprise then to see the Sox explode for 17 runs on 24 hits. The Sox only had four walks, but it was more impressive the way the attacked pitches down the center of the plate before the Angels pitchers could really establish themselves. Patience certainly is a virtue at the plate, but it's also nice to see batters so confident and so unwilling to let an opponent settle in that they attack the ball.

Scott Podsednik continued to hang tough, with a 4-5 outing, and Alexei "The Missile" Ramirez may finally be airborne, going 4-7 with another all-around strong game that raised his average to .243. Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko were the predictable homer contributors. John Danks pitched well enough for the second game in a row, though he had an unsightly 6 walks, but there wasn't much he could do to lose this one.

The only bad moment in this game was a big one, when Carlos Quentin pulled up lame legging out a double, his nagging foot injury suddenly terribly worse--he had to be helped off the field. The Sox have been missing C.Q.'s bat most of the year, and even when he's been in, he's been off. Looks like Pods will be getting more PT, which is still a good thing, but for how long?

Mighty K.C.

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The Sox have lost two in a row in Kansas City and four in a row overall. With the struggling Jose Contreras set to take the mound Wednesday night, I'm not feeling confident about their chances to bust the losing streak.

With the exception of a 3-0 loss to 2009 Cy Young Award Winner Zack Greinke the other night (What? You say they haven't given him the Cy Young yet?), the problems have been mostly in the pitching department. Last night, gavin Floyd let another lead get away from him after the Sox put him ahead 4-1 early on. Things actually looked pretty good in the early going because the Sox managed to hit well off Kyle Davies, the K.C. pitcher who previously has mystified them.

But, Floyd eventually let 6 runs go to waste before departing, and Matt Thornton and Octavio Dotel helped the Royals to a 7th run as this one went into extras 7-7. The Royals won 8-7 in 11 innings. No, K.C. is not the whimpering mess it once was, and the Sox are now 1-4 this season against the Royals. The worst stat from Wednesday night's game was a woeful 11 walks issued by Sox pitchers.

The Sox actually out-hit K.C. 16-11, so maybe they should have come up with a few more runs. Jermain Dye and Josh Field both homered, A.J. Pierzynski was 4-5, Carlos Quentin was 3-5, and Scott Podsednik had 2 RBIs, but as a team, the Sox left 13 men on base.

Still, I find pitching more troubling right now, as the bullpen has begun to weaken, and Contreras, Floyd and even John Danks have strung together a series of poor outings. Who thought at the start of the season that Bartolo Colon would be the second-most effective pitcher on the Sox after Mark Buehrle. Giving Contreras a breather might not be a bad idea, especially with Aaron Poreda picthing well in the minors, but Ozzie Guillen seems resolved to let Contreras find his old self while hacking his way through meaningful games.

Yes, it is still early, but K.C. is in 1st place, and we don't want them to get used to it.

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