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White Sox just might keep it interesting

The bragging rights and fanfare make the two series the Cubs and White Sox play against each other fun, and the games mean a lot to Chicago fans.

With that said, if the highlight is this Sox season is the three-game sweep of the Cubs that the South Siders enjoyed this weekend, it won't be much of a season. Kicking a sick dog isn't very impressive, even if that sick dog would gladly do the same to you (and its fans would gladly gloat about it) if the roles were reversed.

Thing is, I'm beginning to think this may not be the high point of 2012 for the Sox. There's evidence that they may provide Chicago with relevant baseball into August and September, which is something I certainly didn't expect when the season started.

It's not as if the Sox are dazzling me. Sunday's win over the Cubs, which was the fourth straight overall for the Sox, only got them back to .500 at 17-17. Through the Cubs series, the Sox were ninth in the American League in run scoring (174), though they were tied for fourth in the league in run prevention, allowing 165. If you wanted to be overly simplistic and ignore the relatively small sample size that's encompassed, you could say the Sox are better than their record says so far, but not decisively so.

I've blogged a few times that the Sox haven't done a good enough job of taking advantage of the good to great starts they'd gotten from Adam Dunn, Jake Peavy and Alex Rios. That's because I figured those guys would come back to earth. It's starting to look more and more like what those three are doing is real and not just small sample size of fool's gold.

Peavy was fantastic again Sunday, working 6 1/3 scoreless innings and making him 5-1 with a 2.39 ERA. He's struck out 55 batters to just 11 walks, and his fielder independent pitching (2.67) strongly shows he's been more good than lucky.

Dunn got to 14 home runs in the Cubs series and finished it with a .247/.390/.596 triple slash line for the year. He's on a 66-homer pace, meaning he'll probably fall off ... but Dunn has hit 38 or more home runs in six different seasons, and he called U.S. Cellular Field his home ballpark in none of them. Fifty blasts isn't out of the question.

Rios, who is hitting .272/.331/.374, hasn't been nearly as good as the other two, but Sox fans I talk to are rejoicing that he's not the disaster he was in 2011. He's hit, kinda, and he's played a nice right field. The production doesn't justify his $12 million salary, but you'll take it if you're the Sox.

But even if you're expecting regression from that high-priced trio, there are guys that are going to trend the other way. I don't know what Brent Morel is, but he can't really be a .177/.225/.195 hitter ... can he? John Danks may or may not have turned a corner in his season Saturday (he was facing the Cubs, after all), and there's quite a bit about him that worries me, but he's better than his 5.70 ERA to date. Gordon Beckham and Dayan Vicideo might finally be starting to hit. Alexei Ramirez is a better player than he has been in 2012.

All of this is to say that there are some reasons to think the Sox are better than they've shown, and some to think they're worse. The reasons, in my book, largely cancel each other out. The Sox look like a .500ish team — much better than the 71-91 team I foresaw in February, but hardly worth getting excited about.

You may be wondering why I started this column by saying the Sox could be relevant into September and followed that up with close to 500 words painting them as the picture of mediocrity. The answer to that is simple — they play in the AL Central, a division the whole world thought would be bad going into the season, and now looks worse than most of us thought.

Everyone thought the division had at least one monster in Detroit. I wasn't really too high on the Tigers, but I forecast them for 90 wins merely because of the division they play in. But even after winning two of three over the Pirates this weekend, the Tigers found themselves a game under .500 and facing all kinds of issues.

Cleveland is in first place, but through the end of the weekend, the Indians had gotten six wins and a 2.15 ERA out of 38-year-old Derek Lowe. That, among other things about the Indians, isn't sustainable. The rest of the division consists of the young Royals, who have probably buried themselves too much already to contend, and the Twins, who will contend only for the worst record in the game.

Maybe "just good enough to (possibly) contend in a bad division" wouldn't make for a great marketing campaign, especially just a year removed from the hilarious-in-retrospect "All-In" push of 2011. Still, it's nice to think that the baseball season in Chicago may not have peaked in May.

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