A Glimmer of Hope

Over the course of the past couple of seasons, White Sox fans have been forced to watch corpse ball for the greater portion of each season: nothing even remotely resembling life was visible within the confines of Comiskey Park. At the beginning of this, the 2003 campaign, the White Sox faithful thought they were going to experience a vacation from such doldrums for at least one summer. However, April and May's contests brought very little success.

Taking a brief look at the interleague schedule, which made up the vast majority of the Sox schedule for the month of June, it appeared as if the Sox were going to remain the fortuneless ball club to which fans had grown accustomed. If the Sox were to be contenders, they would have to perform well in such interleague games. If not, the team playing on the South side of Chicago would most likely be forced to relegate themselves to obscurity for another summer. The month of June began with the Sox losing two woeful games to Cleveland at Jacobs Field. At the onset of interleague play, the Sox brought their lackluster offense to Arizona, losing the first two games of the series before salvaging the third. The Sox uncharacteristically won a series in Los Angeles two games to one. Just when Sox fans thought the series at Chavez Ravine would help them turn the corner, the subsequent home series loss to San Francisco reignited debate over whether the ball club was comprised of actual professional players or, rather, of overpaid whiny prima donnas.

Then lightning struck … after taking two of three from San Diego, the Sox split a four-game series at home against tough competition from the AL East, the Boston Red Sox. The fun was only beginning.

The White Sox pummeled the Cubs at their own ballpark, winning two games before the Cubs were able to salvage the final game. The Sox followed by winning a series at one of the places of which victories have been the hardest to come by—the Metrodome.

Returning home, the Sox took yet another series against the Cubs, insuring Sox fans of civic bragging rights for yet another year. To close out the month of June, the Sox gave the Twins a thrashing, bringing their June record to 15-13. The Sox found themselves 3.5 games out of first after being 8.5 games out 2½ weeks before.

The month of June presented various highlights, lowlights and question marks, which I will note:

1. Jon Garland: It appeared as if Jon Garland was lost out on the mound during the first two months of the season; however, he finally has seemed to find himself and is showing it with quality start after quality start. One possible cause of Garland's recent resurgence may be that he's been getting much more run support than ever lately. Additionally, he seems to be more confident with his release and his pitches. Coming all the way back to grab a 6-6 record on the season, it appears as if Garland will be a major factor in how the Sox perform.

2. Mark Buehrle: After starting the season 2-10 with very little run support, Mark Buehrle has rattled off three consecutive victories, including a complete game shutout in Minnesota. He is using his pitches like we had grown accustomed to seeing him do last year, and is finally getting the run support he needs to gain some breathing room. Buehrle certainly is an inning eater, as he has pitched in 113.2 innings, giving the bullpen some much-needed rest. Do not be surprised if Buehrle goes off on a major tear now that it seems as if he's feeling more comfortable with himself.

3. Frank Thomas: Frank Thomas has displayed why he is the team leader. Thomas has been showcasing his rejuvenated self since Jerry Manuel has routinely been putting him out at first base. Leading the team in home runs and on base percentage (17 and .426 respectively), Thomas is taking on a great deal of the offensive load and is doing well. It appears as if the "Big Hurt" is coming back to life, and if he is on his game, the rest of the team will follow, putting the rest of MLB in major trouble.

4. Carlos Lee: Carlos Lee has been seeing the ball very well lately. He's learning to work the pitch count, helping him get those hits he couldn't seem to get in previous months. Lee is becoming a major offensive threat, which helps make the middle of our lineup brutal on opposing pitching. Lee finished the month of June as the team leader in RBIs with 49, proving why he is "el Caballo" (work horse). His .270 batting average is highly commendable considering he began the season hitting near the Mendoza line. On the flipside of offense, Lee is displaying a much better defensive style. He's shagging down those fly balls with ease, and is even getting some of the ones that have been hit at tough angles. Lee is becoming a very complete player.

5. Magglio Ordonez: Deserving of a spot on the AL All Star roster, Magglio Ordonez has assumed the same role that he did during the previous few seasons. Ordonez is a man on a mission. Leading the team in batting average (.285), Ordonez' offensive prowess is something at which to marvel. If opposing pitchers make a single mistake, Ordonez finds a way of getting on top of them, tearing the cover off the ball. His 2 triples and 19 doubles, as well as advancing bases as necessary, display Ordonez' fine abilities on the base paths. Ordonez is definitely the type of player who could help this team make some major noise during the second half of the season.

6. Esteban Loaiza: What can be said about Esteban Loaiza that has not yet been said? Loaiza's signing during this past off-season has to go down as the greatest free agent signing in all of baseball. Loaiza's been dancing with an ERA of under two for the greater portion of the season (currently 2.10), which leads all AL starters by far. His 11 wins tie him for the AL lead. On pace for 22 victories, it would be a travesty if Loaiza were not able to start at the All-Star game in his home ballpark.

1. Paul Konerko: It's a shame seeing a superstar like Paul Konerko go through such a disappointing stretch for a lengthy period of time. If Konerko is not striking out, he is either fouling out or hitting a lazy pop-up to the infield. The greatest downfall to this is that the opposing pitchers feel they can walk the guy in front of him if they are in dire need of an out and assure themselves of an out with Konerko. Things have been so bad for Konerko that he is not even close to the Mendoza line (.185 current batting average). With only 17 RBIs, Konerko should not see regular playing time. Instead, it might be good for him to work out the kinks in the minors and then bring him back up when he's fully ready to play on a major league roster once again.

2. Billy Koch: Not one outing goes by without Sox fans having to go for a bottle of Rolaids. Koch is erratic as he can be. He doesn't seem to pitch with command, which could be a sign of a lack of confidence. Not many games go by without Koch giving up at least a run. His 11 saves through the first half of the season is completely unacceptable for someone who was brought here during the off-season as our main closer. It would be nice to finally be able to watch a close game without added acid indigestion because Koch is coming in!

3. D'Angelo Jimenez: D'Angelo Jimenez' claim to fame is not going to be anything more than his game-winning hit against the Cubs on the 28th. Outside of that, he has done virtually nothing to help us out this season. His offensive numbers are very average—nothing to write home about (.255 batting average with 7 home runs and 26 RBIs). Jimenez also isn't aggressive defensively, causing Sox fans to wish for Ray Durham's return. Jimenez is not the type of player who is going to be helpful if we are going to have a strong defense up the middle.

Question Marks:
1. Aaron Rowand: Seeing the ball much better since returning from a brief minor league stint, Aaron Rowand is becoming a more complete player at CF. It's great to see him hitting respectably (.217 batting average) when he left for the minors hitting a measly .133. His game-tying home run against the Cubs on the 28th could possibly be that push he needed in order to get him over the hump and in the right direction. If Rowand can work the pitching count a little more, he can become a more lethal player.

2. Bartolo Colon: It seems as if Bartolo Colon is playing hurt. A 6-7 record is nothing to boast about. When he's on, he's on; however, it seems as if when he's not having a great outing, he cannot seem to regain his command. Colon has been able to pitch complete games, but maybe his arm is starting to give. His 4.20 ERA is respectable, but he's giving up too many base hits (second on team with 110). Here's hoping that Colon will return to the form that got him 20 victories last season.

3. Jose Valentin: Jose Valentin has been among the heart and soul of the Sox. He had a very rough beginning of the season, but it seems as if he's starting to come along, much like Rowand. He's been jacking the ball more than ever, including a walk-off home run against the Cubs on the 27th. Valentin is on a major hot streak now, and hopefully it will continue.

The difference between the month of June and previous months was that the Sox chemistry seemed to be present this past month … and that chemistry has finally led to cohesive play. Sox Manager Jerry Manuel seems to have gotten some life in himself as well! The pitching has improved, as well as the offense. Things are looking very positive for Chicago's Southsiders, and the month of July provides us with a relatively easy schedule on paper. The Sox must now transfer what's on that paper to the win column. But, for now, there is a glimmer of hope.

Heather Marsala is now a senior at Illinois State University studying to become a high school mathematics teacher. She avidly supports her Blackhawks, Bears, White Sox and Bulls. Heather writes monthly columns apprising the month that was at www.soxnet.net. Look for another one of her columns around this time next month. If you wish to contact her with any questions regarding this column or Chicago White Sox baseball, you may email her at hawksbearssoxbulls@hotmail.com.

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