A Chicago White Sox club which won the World Series just two seasons ago and expected to contend again in 2007 may find itself effectively out of the race before July. Losing to the crosstown rival Cubs will only throw salt on that wound.
The White Sox try to avoid their third losing streak this month of at least four games when they continue their weekend home series with the Cubs on Saturday afternoon.
After winning 99 games, the AL Central title and a World Series in 2005, and 90 games last season, the White Sox (29-40) are falling out of contention quickly despite retaining many of the core players from their title run. Chicago started the season 24-20, but has since dropped 20 of 25 to fall 11 games below .500 for the first time since May 29, 2001.
The White Sox, who have already endured losing streaks of four and five games during June, dropped their third in a row, falling 5-1 to the Cubs (33-39) in Friday’s series opener. Alfonso Soriano led off the game with a home run and Aramis Ramirez added a solo shot later in the top of the first.
Ramirez also had an RBI single while serving as designated hitter in his first game back from knee tendinitis, which had sidelined him since June 6.
“When Aramis is in the lineup, it’s obvious,” said Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee, who went 1-for-3 and is batting .514 (18-for-35) in his last 10 games. “He came back strong, didn’t miss a beat.”
The Cubs, who took two of three meetings at Wrigley Field last month, improved to 3-1 versus the White Sox this year and can clinch the season series with a win Saturday.
Meanwhile, the season seems to be only getting worse for the South Siders. Center fielder Darin Erstad came off the disabled list Friday, but left the game just one-half inning after aggravating his sprained left ankle. Results from an MRI exam are expected Saturday.
“It’s just a crazy year,” said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, whose team managed only three hits. “Crazy the way we are injured. We don’t have too many days where we put the complete lineup together, the one we had in plans. Meanwhile, this ballclub is better, offensively better (than) to have three hits every day.”
The White Sox will try to bounce back with Javier Vazquez (3-5, 4.39 ERA) on the mound, although they have lost eight of his last nine starts.
Vazquez did not earn a decision in Sunday’s 8-7 defeat at Pittsburgh, when he gave up five runs and seven hits over six innings but matched his season high with eight strikeouts.
The right-hander also allowed five runs and struck out eight on May 19 at Wrigley, lasting seven innings but not factoring in the decision of an 11-6 loss to the Cubs.
Lee has enjoyed success against Vazquez, going 15-for-41 (.366) with three homers and five doubles in their matchups.
Cubs starter Rich Hill (5-5, 3.22) will try to bounce back from his worst outing of the season. He lost to San Diego on Sunday, when he yielded five runs and five hits - three homers - in a season-low three innings of an 11-3 defeat.
The left-hander fell to 2-5 in his last 11 starts, although he has received more than three runs of support only once in that span.
Hill struggled in his only previous start against the White Sox, a 7-0 loss May 20, 2006, in which he allowed seven runs, five hits - including two homers to Tadahito Iguchi - and five walks in just four innings.