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Sunday, April 24, 2005
AL Central Rabbits

rab·bit -- Sports. A runner who intentionally sets a fast pace for a teammate during a long-distance race.

The White Sox have gotten off to the best 18-game record (14-4) in their 104-year history. They've won six straight, and eight of their last nine. They're an MLB best 7-1 in 1-run games. They have won the opening two games of their first 7 series. They sit at 10 games over .500, a mark they could never quite crack at any point of 2004. They have their biggest lead in the Division since the final game of the 2000 season. Their rotation easily has the best ERA in the AL. I could go on like this all night. In short, the start of the season has been something special.

* * * * *

The crazy thing about the hot start is how they are just finding a way to win games they shouldn't. Saturday night, they were 0-8 with RISP at the end of 9 innings; they had not hit a HR, and yet they were tied 2-2.

The first inning was a microcosm of the season to date. Scott Podsednik led off with an infield single. Tadahito Iguchi followed with a catcher's interference on a bizarre play. Zach Greinke didn't get the ball far enough outside on a pitch-out, and when John Buck reached back to field it, Iguchi swung and hit is glove, resulting in catcher's interference. Greinke was then called for a balk trying to chase Podsednik back towards 2nd, and Carl Everett grounded out to first to plate Pods. The Sox took an infield single, and with very little effort turned it into a run.

* * * * *

Saturday's game was one the Sox had now business winning. The Sox had lost their starter, and had a shortened bullpen because the yet-to-be-scored-upon Dustin Hermanson was unavailable with a sore back. The 3-6 hitters went 1-18, which is becoming a theme in KC. They are 2-36(.056), and yet the Sox have outscored KC 12-4. The bullpen provided 6.2 innings of 1-run baseball. The key play being the 1-out bases loaded wild pitch and subsequent play at the plate by Marte. After getting the winning run out at the plate, Marte punched out Eli Marrero. At that point, you knew the Sox had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

Aaron Rowand provided the game winning RBI in a 2-out 10th inning rally, hopefully working himself out of a funk in the process. Rowand was given the day off by Guillen. It was the first game of the year he didn't start in center field. Jermaine Dye and his .180 batting average should expect to get a rest tomorrow.

* * * * *

Jose Contreras left the game in the fourth inning with what is being described as a strained lower right hamstring. For once, I was actually sad to see him leave so early. He was really working his fastball well, and didn't seem to be shaking off too many pitches at all. Aside from the first batter he faced (a solo HR to DeJesus) it seemed to be working (6K's, 1H).

If you needed further proof that all of the Sox stars are in alignment, the Sox have an off day on Thursday, which would be Contreras' day to pitch. The result is they can skip his spot in the rotation and keep the other starters on normal rest. Saturday May 7th is the first day that the Sox would need a 5th starter. They could keep Contreras with the team if his injury isn't too bad, and not have to send him to the DL. If he had to go on the DL, his first day that he would be eligible to be back would be the 10th. Because they can send him to the DL retroactively and they don't need him right now, the decision doesn't have to be made until around the 6th.

* * * * *

The other day I said I would talk about Jon Garland's hot start. I'm going to hold off for at least one more start. He's got some weird splits, and I have to watch him closely one more time before I'm ready to deem the corner turned.

* * * * *

Via Jayson Stark's Useless Info Dept.

A few tidbits on that classic, in which Mark Buehrle and Ryan Franklin threw every pitch (almost all of which seemed to be strikes):

• It was the fastest nine-inning game since Sept. 30, 1984 (also 1:39) -- Pascual Perez (Braves) vs. Greg Booker (Padres).

• There hasn't been a game played in less than 1:39 since Sept. 28, 1982 (1:33) -- Jim Clancy (Blue Jays) vs. Frank Viola (Twins).

• There was one walk in the game -- issued by Buehrle. And Franklin ran only two three-ball counts all day.

• All three hits allowed by Buehrle came from that relentless Ichiro Suzuki. And according to the Elias Sports Bureau, he's only the third hitter in the last 16 seasons to get all the hits in some pitcher's complete-game three-hitter. The others: Shawn Green off Kevin Appier (May 12, 1999) and Todd Walker off Rolando Arrojo (April 30, 1998).

• And the Mariners' trusty public-relations crew figured out that if you subtracted commercial breaks, Buehrle and Franklin got 51 outs in 65 minutes and 35 seconds.

* * * * *

Gio Gonzalez has worn out his welcome from Sally League hitters. After 4 games, it's pretty clear that he outclasses the competition. Take a look at his McCarthy-like line so far.
W  L   ERA  G    IP   H  R  ER  HR  BB  SO
2 1 1.23 4 22.0 11 4 3 0 6 38
The Sox were reluctant to move McCarthy up the chain too quickly at first, but I don't think they'll be as hesitant with Gonzalez. When he was drafted, an unidentified voice on the White Sox end of the conference call said "he could start in Kanny right now." The Sox knew what they were getting a year ago, so it shouldn't take them as long to recognize his dominance against the league is not just an example of small sample size.

* * * * *

Michael Lewis, of Moneyball fame, has a great piece in the New York Times Magazine on steroids(only a little) and the tale of two minor leaguers. (Bugmenot - registration alternative) I love reading the NYT Magazine on Sundays. There's always at least one article that I read, on a subject that I otherwise would have never paid any attention to, but because it's in the NYT Magazine I give it a read. I'm rarely disappointed.