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TODAY

Monday, October 26

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White Sox Thu Mar 27 2008

White Sox: Angst in the Dugout?

It used to be the Cubs that were the Team of Angst around Chicago, perennially engaged in a 162-game soap opera that usually concluded with a sad ending and bad reviews. Actual baseball seemed to take a backseat to the emotional turmoil of front-office bumbling, locker room conflicts and finger-pointing and managerial frustration. Throw in the perpetual subplots of billy goats and black cats and it became one of the longest running theatrical productions in the city’s history. A losing one, but still…

This season, however, the Cubs appear uncharacteristically business-like going into 2008, emerging from the Arizona desert with their lineup pretty much etched in stone and ready to avoid becoming the punch line of a joke 100 years in the making. No sounds of discord have emanated from Scottsdale and even Carlos Zambrano vows to be “calm, cool and collected” this year.

But for the White Sox, things are looking as jittery as a Starbucks regular on this fourth Americano. With the exception of 2005, the team has always reliably mediocre, a steady second cousin to the Cubs who rarely caused more than a ripple in terms of controversy, save for Frank Thomas’ yearly cries for contract renegotiation.

This year, however, things look a little different for the South Siders. Sure, they’ll send nine players out onto the field when they open the season on Monday, March 31 in Cleveland, but that’s where the certainties end. They come into 2008 with lingering questions and more than a few pieces of emotional baggage.

Third baseman-in-waiting Josh Fields is probably still shaking his head in disbelief after being sent down to Triple A (following an impressive spring) because the team couldn’t deal veteran Joe Crede fast enough (not that that’s a bad thing). Meanwhile, Juan Uribe, Pablo Ozuna, Alexi Ramirez and Danny Richar are probably re-enacting the climactic scene from Reservoir Dogs as they eye each other warily and wonder who will be left standing at second base when the bullets stop flying. Likewise, Brian Anderson, Jerry Owens and Nick Swisher will perform in some sort of weird science experiment in center.

Oh, and don’t ask who’s batting leadoff. Could be Ozuna. Could be Ramirez. Could be Swisher. Could be Owens (when he gets back from the 15-day DL). Could be you if you happen to be sitting in Section 162, Row 12, Seat 9.

The White Sox THINK they have their middle relief problems sewn up, the area that gave them the most headaches last season, with the off-season acquisition of Scott Linebrink and Octavio Dotel. But if the bullpen comes anywhere CLOSE to being the exploding plastic inevitable it was last season, they’ll be in the rear view mirror of Detroit and Cleveland faster than you can say Mike MacDougal.

Off the field is no different in terms of “sturm und drang.” General Manager Kenny Williams seems to be getting more brittle and testy by the minute, responding to almost every reporter’s question with Dick Cheney-esque terse words and clipped sentences. Heck, the guy got salty on the FIRST DAY of spring training when he felt newly acquired Nick Swisher didn’t run hard enough to first in his inaugural at-bat as a member of the Sox. And manager Ozzie Guillen, the reigning king of “angst-y” managers, is vowing to return to being the “old Ozzie,” which apparently means more stuff you can’t air on the 10pm newscasts or include in a family newspaper.

The general consensus is that the Sox don’t have the horses to contend with the likes of the Tigers and Indians in the AL Central, but then that was the rap sheet in 2005 as well. But if predictions of a third-place finish come true and the early uncertainty continues, at least it’ll be a bumpy and interesting ride getting there.

 
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