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Rios, White Sox showing ability to sustain


Last year, the White Sox started the season 7-4. That's a good 11-game stretch. In fact, carry that 11-game stretch over the course of a full season, and you'll get 104 wins.

Of course, those same Sox then lost seven straight and went 1-10 over their next 11 games, which is a slightly worse pace (15 wins). That's another way to say it all went to hell, because all of the natural regression candidates were unnaturally terrible for the whole season.

So I'd been waiting for the Sox to get past the seven-win mark before making any kind of declarations of comfort, and a sweep in Seattle is a great way to mark a separation point from the past.

Alex Rios is living that story by himself. He went 3-for-4, which is very good. He doubled and tripled, which is great. He drove in three runs, which is awesome. And he extended his hitting streak to 10 games, which is three games longer than any hitting streak he amassed in 2011.

He's not lucking out, either. While he showed scary tendencies in spring training (grounders to left, pop-ups to right), he must have worked out the kinks in Glendale. Right now, he's got a healthy mix of line drives with his grounders and flies, and his spray chart is about as handsome as it gets for him.

What else? He's only 1-for-4 stealing bases, but he's taken two bases on hits with hustle. He's batting .286 (4-for-14) with runners in scoring position, after hitting just .171 in such situations last year. He still hasn't conquered his terrible stretch of hitting with a runner on third and two outs (1-for-33 since last year), so that's the last frontier.

I'm a little bit reluctant to heap praise on Rios, because when I pointed out his excellent defense in right field two weeks ago, he dropped a routine fly the next day. And it's going to take a long time for Rios to convince the masses that he's fixed, because his White Sox seasons have been defined by one great month, surrounded by little else.

Since his talent is fleeting, we may as well enjoy it while it's around. In his current form, Rios delivers what the Sox often lack -- good plate coverage, good speed and good defense in right field -- and when he acts his part, it allows Sox fans to dream.

And he's not alone. Adam Dunn is another cross-your-fingers case, but he's at least doing an imitation of his old self, providing a much-needed presence from the left side. Alejandro De Aza has made the leadoff spot his own, using extra-base power to make up for a lack of steals. Kosuke Fukudome came off the bench and drove in a pair of runs. Brent Lillibridge is 5-for-5 stealing bases, and pretty much holding up the team's success rate by himself.

That's not to say the Sox are free of fault lines. Brent Morel and Gordon Beckham look fundamentally unsound with no legitimate Plan B for either, and Dayan Viciedo needs to start getting on top of pitches soon. If at least two of those guys don't start looking respectable soon, it's going to be a grind as the hot Sox cool off.

Even then, direct comparisons can't be drawn to the year before. Morel, Beckham and Viciedo are three guys whose struggles can be mitigated. None of them have the major-league cred to deserve a long leash, and they can be dropped in the order or platooned without drama if it makes sense. Ozzie Guillen made no effort to diminish the negative impact made by Dunn, Rios and Juan Pierre during his awful start, and left to their own devices, they turned into momentum disposals.

Last year's Sox couldn't figure out a way to win three consecutive games until May 19. These Sox have already put together two such streaks, and it's only April 23. That has to be a boon for the team's overall mindset.

The Sox need to believe they can get and stay hot, because it's going to be a tightrope act the entire season. Paul Konerko just about stripped his gears shifting from full speed ahead to full reverse in an attempt to dock at second (sliding is a novel idea), and his brush with death is a reminder that the team's construction is tenuous. The pieces fit together, but they're not known to last an entire season, and there are no replacement parts in stock.

But from the first 15 games, we at least know Rios and Dunn have some baseball remaining in their reserves, and the Sox as a team have a supply of resolve. By those two elements alone, they're already providing a more enjoyable product than they did last season.