Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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It is with somewhat reduced enthusiasm that I undertake my writeup for the upcoming interleague series with the Chicago American League club, proud holders of the best record in baseball at 37-19. I'm a Chicago native, and I'm happy to see the White Sox doing well. Better they than the Cubs, anyway. If you see a rail-thin guy wearing a Shingo Takatsu jersey in the right-field bleachers at Coors Tuesday or Wednesday night, that's probably me.
The Rockies are without Shawn Chacon, Clint Barmes, Todd Greene, and possibly Matt Holliday, and that's bad news as the White Sox will start Freddy Garcia, Jose Contreras, and Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, three-fifths of a rotation that ranks first in the American League in ERA. The combination of a great rotation, a solid bullpen, and good defense are putting the White Sox over this year, as they're only 9th in the AL in OPS. Chicago is overperforming slightly (their record in one-run games is a sterling 18-7), but the longer we go into the season the less chance there is that their success is a complete fluke. With the Minnesota Twins playing pretty well themselves, there's a better than even chance that the American league wild card will come out of the Central Division for the first time ever this year.
One Chicago batter the Rockies won't have to concern themselves with much is Frank Thomas. The two-time MVP, just off the disabled list, isn't able to play first base right now (some wags might say he never was), so he'll just be a pinch-hitting threat in this three-game series. That leaves slugging first baseman Paul Konerko (14 homers), Japanese "rookie" second baseman Tadahito Iguchi (.301/.350/.454), and speedy left fielder Scott Podsednik (.367 OBP, 30 steals) as the focii of the White Sox offense. Offseason acquisition Jermaine Dye has been heating up as of late too (1.070 OPS in the last week).
The White Sox' specialty is getting out to a lead early and hanging on to it. A very solid bullpen led by closer Dustin Hermanson (1.08 ERA), righty Cliff Politte (1.69), lefty Damaso Marte (2.42), and lefty Neal Cotts (2.79 ERA) has been helped by the starters' ability to go deep into games (their 504 2/3 innings pitched ranks first in the AL and fifth in the majors). Last year's closer, the junkballing Takatsu, is having a tough year (6.91 ERA, 1.95 WHIP) but crafty manager Ozzie Guillen will be unafraid to use him against National League hitters who haven't seen his gravity-defying 60 MPH changeup before.
The White Sox' commitment to smallball has been somewhat overstated (they're still fifth in the majors in homers), so Coors Field is unlikely to have a deleterious effect on the way they manufacture runs. Joe Kennedy and Byung-Hyun Kim are unlikely to give them much of a chance in the first two games, so it's up to Jeff Francis, the new official rookie face of the franchise, to keep the Rockies from getting swept on Wednesday night. They better show me something or I'm throwing in the towel and blogging the Padres.
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