Amazing, isn't it?
It's crazy how the Sox do so well when they just do what I tell them to do.
Last week, I said that they needed to sweep the Royals—and they did.
I said that a road-series win in Oakland was absolutely necessary. So they went out west and won two of three (and came very close to a sweep).
A 5-2 week has the Sox moving forward with a little speed now, which is always good. But they have a large obstacle to overcome.
They have to win without...Michael Phelps.
What? Did you see the kid this weekend? I'm fairly sure Michael Phelps would be a good arm to have in the fifth-starter's spot.
"Known unknowns" stepping up
As Donald Rumsfeld (or Gin Rummy, if you watch The Boondocks) said, there are such things as "known unknowns," things that we know that we don't know. As confusing as it sounds, we can relate this to the Sox.
For example, we know that Joe Crede's return is unknown. We also know that we don't know how Juan Uribe will perform in his absence. But there was Uribe, getting a critical RBI double on Saturday night and hitting a two-run homer in Sunday's slaughter.
The big man has been playing great defense, while getting on a small, hot streak at the plate while filling in for Crede.
Another known unknown? Javier Vazquez. After the season-ending injury to Jose Contreras, the Sox were without a fifth starter. With that hole, and Vazquez's long slump, the future seemed uncertain. However, Javy has picked it up in a big way lately.
In three of his last four starts, he's allowed three runs in 22 innings while striking out 21. In the month of August, he's 3-1 with a 2.48 ERA, a far cry from the two previous months. Good thing, too, because with the unsteadiness of Gavin Floyd and the loss of Contreras, Vazquez needs to join Mark Buerhle and John Danks as the anchors of the pitching staff.
Before I forget, Lance Broadway turned in a good start against the Royals Thursday afternoon. Before anyone says, "Ah, it was only the Royals," those were the same Royals that crushed the Sox two Sundays ago and won the last series. While the youngster benefited from good defense, he did his job. It would be nice to see him get another few starts in the last month of the season.
Just as I said last column, the Twins aren't going away. They toughed out a sweep over the Mariners and hung with the Yankees at home, earning a first-place tie with the Sox going into today's contests. Glen Perkins has stepped his game up in the last few weeks, and as always, Francisco Liriano is Francisco Liriano. They'll be playing as hard as the Fighting Sox these next 39 games.
What's this mean? It means we're going to see a classic division race in these last weeks of the season, one that could be talked about for years to come. While the three games between Minnesota and Chicago are going to be huge, the Sox also have some key series between now and then:
Aug. 22-24 vs. Tampa Bay
The last time the Sox locked up with Tampa Bay, Ozzie had some choice words for the team afterwards. The Rays aren't the same team on the road as they are under the Teflon roof (who isn't?), but they'll be a good test for the Sox. Look out for the Rays' pitcher Edwin Jackson; he has a better ERA away from St. Petersburg and has been throwing better lately.
Aug. 29-31 at Boston
No Manny? No problem for the Red Sox, who have remained in the AL East race due to the acquisition of Jason Bay and a continued run of good baseball. The White Sox stood toe-to-toe with the Red Sox last weekend at Comiskey, but it could be different at Fenway; Boston has a 43-18 record at home.
Sept. 1-3, 29-31 vs./at Cleveland
In 2000, the Rock was screwed out his WWF Championship opportunity by the combined forces of Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, the Big Show, and Shane McMahon. So the Rock had nothing to lose and demonstrated this by becoming a thorn in the Coalition's side for two months.
So it goes with the Cleveland Indians, who are out of playoff contention and have nothing to lose. The Sox need to keep their heads up when they step into the ring with the Tribe, lest they get surprised and lose ground to the Twins.
Sept. 5-7 vs. Los Angeles
The best team in baseball comes into town at the beginning of September, and it would be a huge statement for the Sox to knock them down a bit. The White Sox haven't seen the Angels since May, before they became a juggernaut, and before they acquired Mark Teixeira. This series will be a serious challenge for the White Sox's pitchers, who have to match Joe Saunders, Edwin Santana, and the Angels' bullpen step-for-step.
Stay on your toes
It's popular for a race to the playoffs to be compared to a heavyweight boxing match. However, the Sox and Twins more closely resemble a 15-round middleweight contest.
Both these teams aren't the absolute best in the business, but they can hang with anyone. They are tough, they are resilient, and they will always bring their best.
The difference between them is that the Sox have a lot of power in their arsenal. It seems that they could unleash that devastating knockout blow in any contest with a big home run or long, offensive outburst.
The Twins are better over the long run. They can weather early blows and big shots, hang around, and then unleash a combo in the late innings to lay their opponents down for the count (as evidenced against the Yankees and Mariners).
Basically, the Sox have to play the Twins' game for the first six innings, then look for the long one to knock the Twins on the canvas. They must stay on their toes, keep scoring, defend well, and hit big shots when they can.
No matter what happens, this race is setting up to be a classic fight along the lines of Ali vs. Foreman, the fast vs. the powerful.
And these White Sox? Well, you know they love a fight.
Beast of the Week: Carlos Quentin. He was 6-9 with two homers and five RBI at Oakland, and getting hit six-straight games and not charging the mound? That's a beast.
Until next time, keep waving the Pennant.