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WSI News - News Watch

Spring wrap up

March 29, By Paul Sullivan; Chicago Tribune

TUCSON, Ariz. - It may be years before numerologists can decipher the meaning behind the White Sox's adventures in Cactus League 2002.

On one hand, T-ball teams have lower batting averages than the Sox's Opening Day lineup. The Sox hit .349 in Arizona and averaged 7.9 runs per game, while the starting nine had no easy outs: Kenny Lofton (.448), Ray Durham (.355), >Frank Thomas (.346), Magglio Ordonez (.457), Paul Konerko (.507), Jose Valentin (.323), Carlos Lee (.338), Mark Johnson (.355) and Royce Clayton (.354).

They capped the spring with a 22-7 victory over the Cubs on Thursday, pounding out 24 hits. The Sox finished 3-1 against the Cubs this spring, batting .466 in the three victories while averaging 17 runs per game. Jon Lieber and three relievers shut them out on two hits in their only loss.

On the flip side, the Sox play the Cubs only six times this year, and they left Arizona with an 8.19 earned-run average. Opposing teams averaged nine runs per game and Sox pitchers served up 50 homers, leading the majors.

Can the Sox's offense possibly be that dominant? Can the Sox's pitching possibly be that hittable?

"I definitely don't think our pitching is as bad as what we've shown," closer Keith Foulke said. "I can't say much because I've thrown up some big numbers this spring too. I think the offense is very capable of throwing up some big numbers. These next three days we'll find out. We'll see if our guys can start stepping up and getting into that mode. Obviously on Monday we have to go."

Back to reality - The Sox finish the preseason Friday and Saturday in Milwaukee and Sunday in San Francisco. To prove they were simply victims of circumstance, Sox pitchers know the bleeding has to stop now.

"The pitchers have been giving up a lot of runs all through spring," Opening Day starter Mark Buehrle said. "The big thing for us will be to shut the offenses down. We can't blame it on Arizona anymore. I know it affects pitchers, all the [cheap] home runs, but guys can't use that as an excuse. Now that the season is starting, they can't give up a home run and say, 'Seattle, Seattle.'"

What should Sox fans think of the explosion of runs?

"You can't ignore it," Konerko said. "Pitching, hitting, defense-those are the three parts of baseball. On Monday everyone goes back to zero and it's not fair to judge guys and say he has gotten off on the wrong foot already because he had a bad spring. You just have to give everybody the benefit of the doubt. Once we get into the season a little bit, it's a different story. We'll have to monitor it.

"If we're going to be a championship ballclub and go to the playoffs, we're going to need pitching. You don't sneak into the playoffs having one major area that's bad."

Manager Jerry Manuel said the Sox's 9-20 record is irrelevant to him. He was more concerned with the team's health, and it survived the spring with only one player-relief pitcher Kelly Wunsch-only the disabled list.

"I couldn't tell you [the spring record] the last three years," Manuel said. "I'm happy with the job the staff did preparing us. We're as ready as we can be."

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