Debate Cubs vs. White Sox with Jerry Crasnick
THE CASE FOR THE WHITE SOX
Amid the obligatory Ozzie Guillen tirades (and that little inflatable doll incident in the clubhouse, which mercifully faded from the news in a hurry), the White Sox have emerged as the team to beat in the American League Central. They're third in the AL in runs even though Nick Swisher (.221), Paul Konerko (.216) and Jim Thome (.209) all have considerable room for improvement. Youngsters John Danks and Gavin Floyd have flourished under the guidance of pitching coach Don Cooper, and the Sox lead the majors with 41 quality starts. The relief corps also ranks second in the big leagues to the Phillies with a 2.82 ERA. With the recent injuries to Jeremy Bonderman in Detroit and Jake Westbrook in Cleveland, the clubs that were considered the class of the division in spring training are now even less prepared to make a run at Chicago this summer.
THE CASE FOR THE CUBS
Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster are 15-4 at the top of the rotation, and Ted Lilly has carved his ERA from 9.16 to 5.23 since mid-April. Remember when manager Lou Piniella spent much of the spring debating which reliever would close out games in the ninth? Kerry Wood has been dominant in the role, and he and setup man Carlos Marmol have combined for 100 strikeouts and 39 hits allowed in 74 1/3 innings. The Cubs lead the majors in runs scored and on base percentage -- an amazing turnaround given that they were 18th in the big leagues in OBP last season. Chicago has two potential Rookie of the Year candidates in Geovany Soto and Kosuke Fukudome, and a little new blood is always a good thing. That 14-16 road record is a little worrisome, but the Cubs are an impressive 26-8 at Wrigley.
Heck, it was only a week ago that Ozzie Guillen was ranting about his team's lack of production, calling for roster changes and telling everyone that he and hitting coach Greg Walker could both be in trouble. Is this just another Ozzie-outburst-fueled bump at U.S. Cellular? Since we're hesitant to buy into the White Sox-related euphoria this quickly, we'll give the nod to the Cubs because they've been the more balanced, consistent club through the first two months. And when the Cubbies struggle, they know they can always rely on the calm, measured leadership style of Lou Piniella. (Well, compared with Ozzie, anyway).