The White Sox roll in on their hottest streak of possibly the last four years, have won 9-straight and 13 of the last 14, are 3 games over .500 and are as blatant and unapologetic in their happiness about being 3 games over .500 as any team in human history. I mean they are delighted to be 3 games over .500.
As vaguely depressing as that is, the White Sox are playing confident baseball, and have honestly vaulted themselves into contention for their division title. Only a self-loathing blogger would waste time deriding the quality of said division.
The Cubs on the other hand, eeked out an extra inning win against offensively-deprived Seattle to avoid a sweep, but still lost their 7th series out of the last 8. The Cubbies have been in the same boat as the Sox in terms of being an under-performing team with a 9-digit payroll all season, but lack the benefit of a recent life-changing win streak. Because of this great dissonance between investment and result (finally, a problem the Pittsburgh Pirates don't have to worry about), most of the blame has fallen on Lou Piniella for not having a grip on the team, being unwilling to bench veterans and worship the newest Cub-idol in Tyler Colvin, and simply for just being at the helm of a team that seems allergic to performing in game-deciding moments.
For me, as an outsider, and glancing at statistics, the answers to the Cubs troubles seems more clear cut than some sort of meta-physical 'Lou's lost the magic touch and is setting the players out of whack with his old man stench' explanation. Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, cornerstones of the team since the '04 season, have crapped out (right handed sluggers depreciating after age 30, who knew?)
, and the Cubs didn't really acquire any proven commodities for the bullpen beyond the closer, producing a team that doesn't knock in runs (11 less than the Sox in 1 more game despite having a higher on base and slugging percentages), and is 25th in the league in save percentage.
And this isn't going to change. Ramirez returns from the DL Friday after apparently needing to be taught how to swing in a way that doesn't horribly injure his hand (at age 31), and he forms with Lee a dynamic-duo of overpaid, aging disappointment. Cubs rookie Tyler Colvin is a dynamo, but the lineup will still feel like it's missing $30 million worth of production, and they still won't be able to feel good about a lead until Marmol steps on the mound in the 9th.
But the White Sox have developed bigger fish to fry of recent, and while this matchup may have been the last gasp of meaningfulness the season had left for the Sox earlier this month, this series may have lost some of the punch for them recently, especially coming off of a cathartic sweep of an elite opponent. The Cubs on the other hand, are precisely where the White Sox were at the beginning of the Wrigley series; seemingly destitute, but determined to begin their run to make ground against their talented but strangely momentum-less division leader.
Marlon Byrd's words after the Thursday win over Seattle were particularly telling, "I'm hoping we're going to put together a run. Actually, I'm not hoping.
I know we're going to put together a run before the All-Star break."
Then again, if all the Cubs were in the same mindset as Marlon Byrd (the only guy hitting .300+ on the team) things might be a lot different.
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