White Sox looking strong

White Sox looking strong
By Jeff Passan, Yahoo Sports
May 2, 2006

Jeff Passan
Yahoo Sports
We're going to give you five reasons why the Chicago White Sox are a better team now than when they won the World Series last season. Truthfully, there are more than five reasons, but short lists do a better job of taking complicated information and organizing it into digestible nuggets.

Next to Wall Street, baseball has had commerce's longest and most fruitful marriage with numbers. The game's history lives in batting averages and home runs and victories, and to find the best, we look to the top of the rankings. Taking a cue from baseball, magazines now bombard us with lists: 12 ab-tightening exercises and 25 great names for Brangelina's baby and 999 President Bush screw-ups.

In honor of the 2006 season's first month, we wanted to simplify things once more. Keeping that in mind, here's a list-by-list look – with none going longer than nine – at April in baseball.

Why the White Sox are better

1) Jim Thome: Healthy again, the 35-year-old Thome is selective because Paul Konerko bats behind him yet aggressive enough to lead the White Sox with 24 RBIs.

2) The White Sox's defense last season was superb, converting 72 percent of balls put in play into outs. This year, their 72.4 percent defensive efficiency is even better.

3) In 24 games last April, the White Sox scored 106 runs, hit 21 home runs and were on base at a .316 clip. This April, in 24 games, they scored 140 runs, hit 33 homers and had a .358 on-base percentage.

4) Jose Contreras: At this time last year, the White Sox got a glimpse of how good Contreras could be, as he finished April with a 3.04 ERA before slumping badly in June and July. Here's a guess that won't happen this season.

5) Even though their team ERA is up, the White Sox sport an excellent 2.18-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, a quarter-point better than last season's 1.93 in April. Over the long-term, that bodes well.

Best teams now

1) Chicago White Sox: For all of the reasons above, plus Ozzie Guillen's restraint. With a ring on his hand, he could have made this year about himself. He hasn't. At least so far.

2) St. Louis Cardinals: Juan Encarnacion has been awful, So Taguchi worse and Yadier Molina like a cadaver. But the Cardinals have two things others don't: Albert Pujols (14 homers) and pitching (3.47 ERA, and 2.66 in the bullpen).

3) Cincinnati Reds: It is difficult to argue with the results, so no matter how ugly the Reds win – their 132 runs allowed are second worst for a team over .500 – they're still winning.

4) Detroit Tigers: The Tigers have allowed 85 runs, the least in the big leagues, and have the best road record at 11-4. Hail Jim Leyland.

5) Houston Astros: Taylor Buchholz and Wandy Rodriguez have a combined ERA of 2.38. Just imagine how good their bullpen will be once Brad Lidge straightens himself out.

Best teams in the long run

1) Chicago White Sox: Imagine facing Jose Contreras one day, then Mark Buehrle, and knowing Freddy Garcia, Javier Vazquez and Jon Garland follow – with Brandon McCarthy in the bullpen.

2) Houston: Who gets booted from the rotation if Roger Clemens and Brandon Backe return? An embarrassment of pitching riches.

3) Boston Red Sox: Once their bats heat up, the Red Sox can ride Josh Beckett and the reinvigorated Curt Schilling to an AL East title.

4) Cleveland Indians: If the Indians can just find some middle relief – why not use Fausto Carmona in a Joel Zumaya role to help with the 5.83 bullpen ERA? – their hitting will do the rest.

5) St. Louis: Let the debate begin: Can Pujols, whose best months, historically, are June, July and August, eclipse 73 homers?

Worst teams now … and in the long run

1) Kansas City Royals: The Royals have a legitimate shot of scoring the least runs and allowing the most in baseball. Even when they got things right – a six-run first inning against Esteban Loaiza last weekend – rain nullified it.

2) Florida Marlins: Of the Marlins' nine batters with more than 25 at-bats, four are hitting .208 or worse. Their starting pitchers give up almost 1 ½ baserunners per inning. Unlike the Royals, at least they're young.

3) Pittsburgh Pirates: All that talk about improvement disappeared pretty quickly. The Pirates still can't pitch, as opponents put up an .858 OPS against them, and their fielding, despite Jack Wilson and Jose Castillo up the middle, has been suspect.

4) Washington Nationals: That new stadium can't come soon enough. The Nationals' 1-7 record at home is the worst in baseball. They slug 80 points better on the road than at RFK Stadium.

5) Minnesota Twins: What happened? Well, Carlos Silva and Brad Radke have given up 90 hits in 56 innings combined, Johan Santana has been about as bad as Julio Santana and they still can't hit (.678 OPS is 28th in baseball).

All-April lineup

1) Derek Jeter, SS, New York Yankees: The perfect leadoff hitter: Gets on base (.505 OBP), runs the bases well and can hit, too.

2) Vernon Wells, CF, Toronto: Though he doesn't walk much, Wells has struck out only 14 times and is strong (.426 BA) with runners on base.

3) Jason Giambi, DH, New York Yankees: A left-handed bat. The game's best OBP. And scary pop to boot.

4) Albert Pujols, 1B, St. Louis: Any questions?

5) Victor Martinez, C, Cleveland: Switch-hitting catcher whose 15 extra-base hits rank sixth in the big leagues. (Down side: He is struggling to throw out runners.)

6) Carlos Lee, LF, Milwaukee: Beats Cincinnati's Adam Dunn because his 19-to-9 walk-to-strikeout ratio is better than Dunn's 25-to-33.

7) Morgan Ensberg, 3B, Houston: Eight doubles, nine homers, 21 walks and a good-enough glove.

8) Brad Hawpe, RF, Colorado: Highest OPS among right fielders plus two outfield assists leads the weakest position.

9) Brian Roberts, 2B, Baltimore: Roberts hasn't homered and is on the DL, but he brings speed (nine stolen bases) and is a switch hitter.

All-April bench

1) Lance Berkman, 1B/OF, Houston: Second to Pujols in RBIs with 30, barely ever strikes out (eight in 94 at-bats), plays multiple positions and is a switch hitter.

2) Omar Vizquel, SS, San Francisco: Speed (six stolen bases), savvy (.466 OBP) and a glove sweeter than aspartame.

3) Bill Hall, UT, Milwaukee: Plays second, short, third and center field, and has 15 extra-base hits in 66 at-bats.

4) Jonny Gomes, DH/OF, Tampa Bay: Powerful right-handed bat who can take a walk (.436 OBP) and hit a homer (11).

5) Jim Thome, DH/1B, Chicago White Sox: Powerful left-handed bat who can take a walk (.450 OBP) and hit a homer (10).

All-April rotation

1) Greg Maddux, RHP, Chicago Cubs: If he keeps up this pace, Maddux might allow fewer earned runs than his age.

2) Jose Contreras, RHP, Chicago White Sox: Virtually a lock to go six innings, as he's done in 19 consecutive starts, playoffs included.

3) Chris Carpenter, RHP, St. Louis: Throw out his first start and Carpenter has given up four runs in 35 innings.

4) Chris Capuano, LHP, Milwaukee: Tied for the big-league lead with 40 strikeouts, and opponents hit .179 against him.

5) Bronson Arroyo, RHP, Cincinnati: So what if Arroyo won his fifth game on May 1. He's still been a huge part of the Reds' turnaround.

All-April bullpen

1) Duaner Sanchez, RHP, New York Mets: With 17 scoreless innings, has pitched the most without giving up a run.

2) Joe Kennedy, LHP, Oakland: None of his eight inherited runners have scored. Bonus: He's a lefty. Double-bonus: He can pitch long or short relief.

3) Scot Shields, RHP, Los Angeles Angels: The ideal swing reliever: Can mop up for two innings or set up in the eighth (with a 1.15 ERA to boot).

4) Tom Gordon, RHP, Philadelphia: Nineteen strikeouts against four hits in 11 2/3. Yeah, he's still got it.

5) Billy Wagner, LHP, New York Mets: Nearly unhittable thus far, having given up only one run. The best left-handed closer.

6) Jonathan Papelbon, RHP, Boston: Opponents are slugging .167 against him. The best right-handed closer.

Cost of All-April team: $156,473,982

Cost of Yankees team that went 13-11 in April: $194,663,079

All-April disappointments

1) Atlanta: Six games back, stunted by injuries and playing with as much swagger as a Chihuahua, the Braves had their worst 24-game stretch to start the season since 1990.

2) Brad Lidge, RHP, Houston: The hallmark of Lidge has been the ability to harness his filthy stuff. He's got 11 walks in 13 2/3 innings. Over 71 2/3 innings last season, he walked 23.

3) Jeff Francoeur, OF, Atlanta: Excise April 13, 14 and 30 from Francoeur's season, and he's hitting .125 (11 for 88) with no homers and five RBI.

4) Minnesota: It is no easy task to sport a rotation with the three worst ERAs in baseball. With Carlos Silva, Brad Radke and Kyle Lohse, the Twins have managed to do this.

5) Felix Hernandez, RHP, Seattle: Five starts, 43 baserunners in 26 2/3 innings and the lingering question: Are the Mariners handling the 20-year-old correctly?

Good for the long run

1) Prince Fielder, 1B, Milwaukee: Against Fielder, Atlanta employed a shift to the right. Fielder stroked a ball into left field. Unlike his dad, Fielder is a hitter, not a home-run hitter.

2) Craig Wilson, 1B, Pittsburgh: Healthy again and putting up strong numbers in spite of trimming his mullet. Samson, take that.

3) Chris Capuano, SP, Milwaukee: Right now, he's the best left-hander in the NL. Yes, better than Dontrelle Willis.

4) Garrett Atkins, 3B, Colorado: Came into the season wondering if prospect Ian Stewart could take his job. Now the Rockies are figuring out what other position suits Stewart best.

5) John Lackey, SP, Los Angeles Angels: Cover up the win-loss column and his numbers last season were identical to Cy Young winner Bartolo Colon's. This year, Lackey has been even better.

Don't expect much more

1) Chris Shelton, 1B, Detroit: Slowly – and surely – Shelton has returned to live with us mortals. In his last 13 games he has one homer and three RBI. He'll find a happy medium and hit around 30 homers.

2) John Thomson, RHP, Atlanta: Breakout years generally don't happen at after your 32nd birthday, and Thomson won't lead baseball in ERA as he currently does.

3) Brian Bannister, RHP, New York Mets: The makeup on the rookie starter is great. The peripherals (particularly a 14-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio) are scary.

4) Adrian Beltre, 3B, Seattle: From the you-know-it's-bad-when department: Beltre's OBP of .299 is higher than his slugging percentage. Hey, at least he's got seven steals!

5) Ty Wigginton, 2B, Tampa Bay: Does a line-drive-hitting utilityman really turn into a masher at 28 years old? Convention says no.

Five predictions to go

1) Barry Bonds hits his 714th homer May 11 against the Cubs.

2) Colorado falls from first place to last place over the next two weeks – then rebounds when it starts playing NL West teams again.

3) The Braves make a summer run and overtake the Mets for their 15th straight NL East title.

4) Baltimore, a Leo Mazzone-coached team, finishes with the American League's worst ERA.

5) George Mitchell's investigation finds nothing new, and people just shrug their shoulders and wonder why baseball bothered in the first place.

Jeff Passan is a national writer for Yahoo! Sports. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jeff a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Tuesday, May 2, 2006 4:03 pm, EDT

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