Heading into this weekendâ€™s Cross town Series against the Cubs, the Sox are only 3.5 games out of first place in the AL Central. The old line â€œif you told me that on May 18 weâ€™d only be hitting .222 as a team but still be three games over .500 and within striking distance of first place Iâ€™d be ecstaticâ€ is true. (Just ask Hawk, he says it about every 15 minutes on telecasts).
Itâ€™s true, the deficit could much worse. Take a look at the Sox opponent for the next three days: the Cubs have had outstanding starting pitching, and have outscored their opposition by 26 runs but find themselves three games under .500 and seven games out of first in a lesser division and league. The Sox, for comparisonâ€™s sake, are at minus-13 in run differential and in the much more difficult AL Central. Leave that mess for Lou Piniella to figure out.
But, despite Hawkâ€™s homerism and Greg Walkerâ€™s inexplicable job safety, the Sox should not feel too good about their position. Itâ€™s easy to assume the Sox will start hitting because theyâ€™re â€œtoo good not toâ€ as everyone loves to point out, and chances are they will improve. But the key will be whether they can sustain productive hitting. Three weeks of homers and 8-run games would be nice, but not enough to make the playoffs. The Sox have to overcome a deficit, not just maintain a lead, and history tells us thatâ€™s very difficult for this team.
The point isnâ€™t that a 3.5 game deficit is completely irreversible. Itâ€™s not. (Though a valid point can be made that leapfrogging not one or two but three great teams in the standings is nearly impossible.) The point is, frankly, the Sox are not a come from behind kind of team. They never have been.
The teamâ€™s last two playoff appearancesâ€”2000 and 2005â€”came as a result of torrid starts to the season followed by second half slumps the Sox were able to absorb because of big division leads. Every time the team (and its fans) take the â€œwe can get hot and make up groundâ€ strategy, it never happens. Look at 2003 and 2006 as the most recent of many examples.
In 2003, the Sox got off to a brutal 25-29 start through the seasonâ€™s first two months, due mostly to anemic hitting. The team eventually climbed back into the race with a big July and August push, but ran out of gas down the stretch and lost the division to the Twins. The 2006 team got out of the gate hot, but again failed to hit the ball in September, costing them the division.
So with 3.5 games to make up now, this team will not have the luxury of a lazy September. Get hot NOW, Sox!
-Congratulations to rookie John Danks on his first two major league victories. In his last two starts, covering 13 innings, Danks is 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA. Thereâ€™s no question the kid has exceeded expectations in his first taste of the majors; his poise and demeanor on the mound guiding him past any rough spots that might send other 22 year olds into tailspins. If Danks can keep this up, heâ€™s got to be one of the early favorites for AL Rookie of the Year as Alex Gordon continues to struggle in
-It was nice to see Jermaine Dye finally start to hit in yesterdayâ€™s win over the Yankees. But his defense in right field has slipped noticeably since 2005. That is not to say that heâ€™s brutal out thereâ€”but where he was once an elite right fielder, he is now only average. His arm is still good, but his range has declined significantly. Several times this season he has come up just short on fly balls that required extra effort to reach. Easy plays? No. But they are plays he used to make regularly. At age 33, this problem will probably only get worse in time, and Dyeâ€™s future from 2008 on may be as a left fielder.
-Boo to Ozzie Guillen for leaning toward demoting Ryan Sweeney, instead of Luis Terrero, when Jim Thome returns from the DL next week. In this sleepwalking offense, Sweeneyâ€™s line drive, base hit, take-what-they-give-me swing has been a burst of fresh air. Iâ€™m not expecting miracles from Thome when he returns anywayâ€”his ribcage injury will linger. But Sweeney should still start every day in left field at this point.
-Finally, someone should tell Ozzie itâ€™s not a good idea to swear on live radio. He sounds like one of the deranged callers from Chris Rongeyâ€™s post game show.