SOX WEARING THIN?
The White Sox might have too big a lead in the American League Central to blow (8 1/2 games over the Indians with 41 games to play at week's end), but their uninspired play this month raises doubts about their chances in October. Chicago raced to a 69-35 record on pitching and--let's face it--some good fortune. An AL-best one third of those wins came by one run. From Aug. 2, however, the White Sox were 6-11, while scoring the fewest runs in the majors (a paltry 3.1 per game).
Manager Ozzie Guillen blasted his team after a seventh straight loss, a 5-0 clunker against the Yankees last Saturday. "We just stink at the plate," Guillen said. "I'm sick and tired of seeing these guys give up at bats. I apologize to the fans. To me it's embarrassing." Yes, the Sox miss catalyst Scott Podsednik (above), who was placed on the disabled list on August 15 with a strained left groin. But even accounting for the contributions of their leftfielder, who had stolen a major-league-leading 54 bases in 99 games, the White Sox for the season ranked an unimpressive eighth in the AL in runs scored (4.7 per game). Come October, when runs typically are harder to come by, the thin Sox lineup might be more exposed.
JUICY RUMORS RUN DRY
The commissioner's office fielded dozens of calls from reporters last week about rumors of big-name players testing positive for steroids. Blame the hysteria on Internet gossip and the lack of an independent agency to administer the drug-testing policy. When Rafael Palmeiro's case took more than two months from test to appeal to announcement, baseball opened itself to suspicion that other stars had tested positive and were getting similar deliberate or preferential treatment. For the record, Astros ace Roger Clemens (above), one of the frequent targets of the innuendo, has come up clean on both of his tests this year, according to two sources familiar with the results.
•With an NL-best 2.80 ERA in August through Sunday, the Marlins may be getting hot at the right time. Their playoff push, however, will not be abetted by a soft schedule. Starting on Aug. 29, Florida plays its final 32 games against nothing but NL playoff contenders: the Cardinals, Mets, Nationals, Phillies, Astros and Braves.
•Happy birthday, Julio Franco. The Braves' first baseman (above), who turned 47 on Aug. 23, is older than Hawaii's statehood; has been playing major league ball longer than 21-year-old teammate Jeff Francouer has been alive; is old enough to have been a teammate of Pete Rose; and, with his next home run, will become the oldest major leaguer ever to hit a homer, outgeezering Jack Quinn.
•The Cubs didn't want reliever Joe Borowski, but since he was signed by Tampa Bay on July 14, he's given the Devil Rays 17 1/3 scoreless innings and solidified what was a shaky bullpen as the club went 23-12 after the break. "We gave up way too many runs in the eighth inning in the first half," manager Lou Piniella says. "Now we've got Borowski for the eighth and [righty closer] Danys Baez for the ninth."
JOHN BIEVER (PODSEDNIK)
ANDY LYONS/GETTY IMAGES (CLEMENS)
MIKE SIMONS/US PRESSWIRE (FRANCO)