Tuesday, May 26, 2009

BASEBALL: Will it be fine in ’09 – now that the standings become relevant

I am a fan of professional baseball who enjoys the sport particularly because of its daily nature (you don’t have to sit around all week waiting for “the big game”) and the fact that anything can happen at virtually any time in the 162-game season.

Yet it wasn’t until Monday morning that I seriously looked at the league’s standings. It’s my own personal rule – I don’t pay much attention to the standings until Memorial Day.

BY NOW, WE’RE just over one-quarter of the way through the American League season (and for those foolish people with little sense, the National League too). By now, we’re able to see just enough of play to know how good (or bad) our city’s ball clubs truly are.

It makes a lot more sense than trying to predict a pennant winner in mid-April, based off a couple of good weeks that could be a total aberration. I still remember a few years ago when the Cleveland Indians started off the season with a record of 11-1 and many pundits were ready to start thinking of them as one of the truly great ball clubs.

Fourteen games later, they had a record of 13-13, and they wound up not even finishing with a winning record that season.

So what should we think of our city’s teams? I’m finding the White Sox to be a maddening ball club.

THEY’RE CAPABLE OF playing as though they’re one of the league’s elite teams, and they’re also capable of playing like they want to take over the image the Cubs have built up throughout the years for ineptitude.

With a record of 20-24, it would not be unreasonable to think they’re not going to repeat as a division title winner.

Yet they get the dumb luck of playing in an American League division where none of the teams are dominant. How else to explain the fact that they’re 4 games under .500, yet only 5 1/2 games behind first place Detroit?

Now some people want to think that the “story” behind the 2009 season is the “resurgence” of the Kansas City Royals – they’re not in last place in the division like they usually are.

YET LET’S BE honest. They may be in second place, but they have a record of 22-23, which means they have a losing record, which also means they’re only a couple of ballgames better than the White Sox.

Am I delusional to think that the White Sox could suddenly hit a hot streak, win a few ballgames and put themselves back in serious contention (1st Place by July 4, which is supposed to be the date upon which serious championship contenders have put themselves into the running).

It could happen. Then again, it may not.

Any ball club that could lose so many games in early May (for a stretch, the only games they weren’t losing were the ones Mark Buehrle started) may not have it in them to have a hot streak.

BUT THEN I look at the rest of the American League’s central division and see a batch of teams that could easily start playing as badly as the White Sox. We could have a team that finishes anywhere from 1st through 4th place.

Heck, even when the White Sox manage to play “well,” they also do things that overcome any positive impression that might be received.

Take this past week into account. They played two three-game series in Chicago and won four (literally winning two of three each against the Minnesota Twins and the Pittsburgh Pirates).

Yet what are going to be the two games that people will remember? It will be the two losses.

THAT’S WHAT LOSING 20-1 will do for the national reputation, along with taking a lead into the ninth inning against one of the worst teams in Major League Baseball with your so-called top relief pitcher on the mound – and finding a way to blow the ballgame.

There are four more months to go in the 2009 season, but I don’t know if baseball on the South Side is going to be a cheerful or maddening experience. Will this be the fourth division title of the ‘00’s for the White Sox, or a year we’ll want to forget (like much of the latter half of the 1980s)?

Intriguing is about the most accurate words I can think of to use, but I count on following baseball to be a means to forget about my life’s problems – not add new ones to the list.

Now as I have written before, I don’t care much about the Chicago Cubs or anything having to do with the National League (which is why I didn’t care much about so-called star pitcher Jake Peavy of the San Diego Padres turning down a chance to play for the White Sox).

YET IT JUST strikes me as odd that a team so many pundits want to believe is a legitimate pennant contender that is “due” to win something after coming so close the past two years went into the holiday at 21-22 (fourth place, out of six teams). I know they were higher until they hit an 8-game losing streak (which is something not even the White Sox have managed to do this year).

But I’m getting the impression that baseball won’t be fine in ’09 – at least not if you measure a season’s success as to whether they were legitimate contenders for a league championship.

While I can appreciate the idea that baseball being played at any level can be a thing of beauty to watch (I will always find the mind games played between pitcher and batter to be the most intriguing aspect of athletics), there could be so much bad baseball played in Chicago this year.

It’s almost enough to get me to root for the New York Yankees (at 26-19, only 1 game out of first place), just because it would irritate those Cubs fans who think their team shares some cosmic “bond” with the Boston Red Sox (which is in itself an absurd thought, but that’s a subject for future commentary).


EDITOR'S NOTE: Or perhaps I should just spend the summer following the Chicago Fire, who have managed (http://web.mlsnet.com/news/mls_news.jsp?ymd=20090525&content_id=4946018&vkey=news_mls&fext=.jsp) to win their last 10 matches. When was the last time either Chicago baseball club ran up a winning streak like that?

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