Regardless of how Scott Carroll fares in the finale of the crosstown series, the White Sox will come away from the crosstown series with bragging rights, and their fans should come away with a good understanding of how the other half lives.
The White Sox have had their share of problems during an uneven and unhealthy start to the season, but they don't compare to the fault lines underneath the Cubs organization. Jon Greenberg says that Jed Hoyer cited lower ticket revenues as a budget constraint, which is a new issue to add to the pile. It's not like the Sox can trumpet their gate receipts, but their most recent ownership story was Jerry Reinsdorf persuading Kenny Williams to bid up for Jose Abreu. The Sox are sometimes too stable for their own good, but at least that allows them a firm idea of how to pay for things.
Moreover, the Cubs are easing the Sox through a difficult time on their roster -- so much so that it's difficult to tell if the possibility of unforeseen depth in a few areas is merely an illusion. This is especially true on the pitching side. For instance...
Jose Quintana, Hector Noesi and John Danks allowed five runs combined over their three starts, down from 15 runs between them the last turn. Now here comes Carroll, who hopes to go 3-for-3 in strong outings to help the Sox go 4-for-4 in the crosstown series.
Based on their track records, two of those guys have no business being in the majors. Nevertheless, they're buying the organization enough time to take it easy with Chris Sale, who was able to throw a second bullpen session this week, not that it's any of your business. They can also take the scenic route with Erik Johnson, who threw seven strong innings with Charlotte on Wednesday, but will remain in Triple-A for at least one more turn. This might be the reason why:
"I felt good," said Johnson, 24, whose fastball hovered between 87 and 89 mph. "I was throwing my fastball where I wanted and my slider was working."
He mixed in his change-up more as the game progressed and showed a sharp curve ball.
"(The White Sox) just want me to get back to me being me and attacking the zone with multiple pitches and working ahead," he said.
That has to be a slow gun, or else Johnson is down two ticks after already losing a couple. Whatever the case, the Sox are somehow starting Noesi, Carroll, and Andre Rienzo while Johnson is pitching well in Charlotte, and it hasn't been exposed as completely untenable yet. The Cubs have a lot to do with that.
The 12-inning game forced Robin Ventura to go deep into his bullpen in the opener, but unlike earlier extra-inning games, Ventura has been able to change pitchers in a calm and orderly fashion. Led by Jake Petricka's three perfect innings, the bullpen has posted this line over three games: 12 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 12 K.
This seems more real, if only because the Sox bullpen entered the series with a bit of momentum. Petricka's the latest to find a groove, which started with Ronald Belisario getting over that disastrous Coors Field outing and Zach Putnam showing excellent command with his splitter. Maikel Cleto is the only guy truly out of step (12 walks over his last 10 innings), but in this case, the it's kinda a welcome development for the weakest link to be so easy to identify.
A few weeks ago, you'd look at what Frank Francisco's doing in Charlotte (8 IP, 4 H, 1 BB, 12 K) and wonder why he isn't in Chicago. He may still be needed in the near future if the Cubs are making regression impossible at the moment, but if the bullpen is truly able to share the load, it's another way to cover for a rotation that looks like the bigger mirage.
Take a step back, and it looks like this team is kinda coming together as it's kinda falling apart. The rotation is held together by tape and gum, Ventura can't optimize his lineup against good right-handed pitchers, and yet they still found a way to erase a four-game losing streak by winning the next four after that. For all of Hawk Harrelson's grumbling about the Cubs being too early on the schedule, they probably couldn't have shown up at a better time.