So far, it looks like we had the White Sox all wrong.
We worried about their lack of power (through Thursday: 38 home runs, fourth in baseball), but not about their starting rotation (through Thursday: 5.02 ERA, fourth worst in the American League).
And no, we never told you that Paul Konerko was going to start hitting home runs like it was 2004 or 2005 again. But perhaps we should have.
|Paul Konerko can do damage when his head is straight, his hitting coach says. (Getty Images)|
"When Paulie's in a good spot mentally, he's good."
Too many times the past few years, he hasn't been. White Sox people talk about how often Konerko gets down on himself when he's not doing well, perhaps surprising for a guy who has 338 career home runs.
"I think I've gotten a little better at how I handle the ups and downs," said Konerko, whose 12 homers lead the AL. "I think I've always been good at [turning the page] when I'm doing well, but not as good when I'm doing bad."
So far, Konerko is doing well. It's his team that isn't.
Could that mean Konerko is on his way out of town in a midseason trade? He won't talk about that, or about his contract, which runs out at the end of this season. As a 10-and-5 player, Konerko could veto any trade.
Konerko didn't come up through the White Sox system, but he has basically played his entire career in Chicago. The Angels thought they had a chance to sign him when he was a free agent in 2005, but the lure of staying with a team that just won the World Series helped convince him to sign the five-year, $60 million deal that runs out this season.
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The White Sox find themselves a season-high seven games behind the first-place Twins.
"We've gotten off to some slow starts before," Konerko said. "But the old saying is you can't win the division in April or May, but you can lose it. We can't wait until July or August to find it."
The White Sox haven't been this far out of first this early in a season since 2001, when they were 11 games back on May 7, and never got back into the race.
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The Orioles have played six games each against the big three teams in the AL East, and manager Dave Trembley came away most impressed by the Rays.
"Tampa's like the Yankees were last year," Trembley said. "They've got six guys in the lineup who could hit 30 home runs. And they look like they're on a mission. Look at how many times they come from behind. They're like the Yankees last year."
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Dave Duncan makes Brad Penny's turnaround sound simple.
"I just think he's thinking more like a pitcher," the Cardinals pitching coach said. "He's got great control, and he can make pitches if that's his approach. ... He looks like a pitcher now."
So how does Duncan keep getting veteran pitchers to buy into his system?
"It's fun to be good," Duncan said. "So it's not hard to get them to buy into it."
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Jaime Garcia, the 23-year-old left-hander who has a 1.13 ERA as the Cardinals' fifth starter, didn't exactly come out of nowhere. Baseball America ranked him as the Cardinals' second-best prospect last winter (behind 19-year-old right-hander Shelby Miller).
If the Cardinals have a concern, it's that Garcia pitched just 37 2/3 innings last season while coming back from Tommy John surgery. So despite his early success, don't be surprised if the team has him skip a few starts at some point.
One other thing about Garcia: So far, he's doing this basically as a two-pitch, fastball-slider pitcher. Duncan said he fully expects Garcia to be a four-pitch pitcher in the future, as he refines his curve and changeup.
Garcia, who like Yovani Gallardo was born in Mexico but raised in Texas, doesn't lack for confidence.
"When I was watching the  World Series, I was telling myself I can be one of those guys. I can beat the Phillies."
On Monday night, he did.
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Albert Pujols had one RBI in four games against the Phillies this week. He has just a .268 batting average in 58 career games against the Phillies.
"Let's not talk about it," Phils manager Charlie Manuel said.
But Charlie, you say you're not superstitious.
"I'm not superstitious," Manuel said. "I just know how good he is."
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Remember that idea the Twins had this spring of making Francisco Liriano their closer? The biggest reason it didn't happen was that Liriano made it clear he wasn't comfortable with it.
And now Liriano is 4-0 with a 1.50 ERA as a starter, and has become the Twins' much-needed ace atop the rotation.
So are the Twins smart, lucky, or a little bit of both?