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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Kansas City Blues

Update: Stark still wrong

by
Guy Bacci

There was joy and tears and reflection and celebration as the White Sox kicked off the new season with shiny rings and extravagant banners, but it didnít take long to realize 2005 was gone and 2006 had arrived. The World Champs started their run a year ago with a 1-0 victory over the Cleveland Indians in a game that would turn out to define the season. Stunning pitching, just enough offense, gritty base running and solid defense. They started the second half with another 1-0 victory over Cleveland. They ended the whole thing with yet another 1-0 game in Houston.

But 2006 proved to be unique from the get-go. Forget 1-0; the final was 10-4 in a rain-soaked affair. Many fans who partied at the start werenít around to see the Sox offense go nuts and Jim Thome blast his first monstrous homer of the season. With the victory on Opening Day, the Sox had won 16 of their last 17 games. Sox fans had nearly forgotten what it felt like to lose.

They would be reminded rather quickly. The Champs dropped their next four; and not in elegant fashion, either. Two games were stinkers, with Sox pitchers getting bombed, allowing a total of 17 runs. In the other two, the Sox dropped one-run battles.

The Champs? What happened to the unstoppable pitching? The amazing record in one-run ballgames? The Champs didnít lose four in a row until August. The new guys lost four in a row within the first five games.

Sox fans being Sox fans, they got in touch with their natural tendency to panic. One World Series certainly isnít enough to squash years and years of doubt and despair. All it takes is one four-game losing streak, and Southsiders are headed for the window ledge.

Iíll admit I was nearly one of them. And then something happened to make me feel a whole lot better. Jayson Stark of ESPN made his weekly appearance on a local radio show here in Seattle, and proved heís still Jayson Stark. When asked if the early-season results would hold any water, Stark stated the following: The Yankees arenít as bad as they started, nor are the Phillies or Rangers. The Tigers, Brewers and Indians are all for real. But the White Soxóthe World Champion White Soxóare in trouble. They have no bullpen, their starters canít repeat what they did last year, and letís face it, they were just flat-out lucky anyway. Stark referenced A.J.ís ALCS third-strike and Scott Podsednikís World Series homer off Brad Lidge as proof that the Sox were riding a four-leaf clover all season.

And just like that, I knew the 2006 White Sox would be fine. Moron Stark dissed the South Side from start to finish last year, and he still hasnít learned his lesson. Some people never do.

Sure, this team is different. Sure, they could use another reliable arm in the penówho couldnít? Sure, their starters might not have the amazing team ERA they did last year. But look at how much more potential their offense is showing. Thome is on a tear, and April is typically his worst month. Anyone whoís had Thome on a fantasy team knows he goes through three or four amazing stretches every season. The Sox offense has already scored more than six runs four timesóit took them an entire month, 21 games, to accomplish that feat last year.

Scott Podsednik hasnít attempted a steal and Paul Konerko has just started to hit, and yet the Sox enter Sunday above .500. If the starters can even begin to approach what they did last year, the Sox will be devastating.

Of course, reasonable fans see warning signs too. Jon Garland cannot continue to regress, especially after signing an extension in the off-season. Javier Vazquez canít have too many outings like his performance last Friday, in which Toronto torched him for seven runs in six innings. (Getting booed in your first home game with the club is not a good sign.) If Cliff Politte is going to continue his suckage, the pen will become Kenny Williamsí A-one priority.

And then thereís the competition, which is considerably improved over last year. Travis Hafner is entering David Ortiz/Jim Thome territory as one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball. Chris Shelton of the Tigers isnít far behind. The Twins continue to pull out magical victories, and even the Royals are a pesky bunch, suddenly loaded with veterans.

Yet despite the slow, completely anti-2005 start to the season, the New Sox are in second place, just one game behind. As Ozzie Guillen has said many times, the Champs are gone, sealed away in the record books for Sox fans to fondly remember forever. This team will grow its own identity and create its own story. Itís not going to be as easy as last year, but itíll still be fun.

Just ask Jayson Stark.


Guy Bacci is from the north suburbs of Chicago, where he couldn't avoid growing up as a pampered and snotty Cubs fan. Luckily, he saw the light in 1985 and never looked back. He loved the hard-working, old-school tactics of Carlton Fisk, who would become his all-time favorite player. His most memorable moment was going to a Sox double-header with his grandfather, who insisted on staying all nine hours (including a long rain delay). Guy is a journalism grad from Northwestern, currently residing in Seattle, where he works as a computer programmer and freelance writer. He can be reached at guybacci@yahoo.com.

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