For White Sox, quick descent from heights

The Baltimore Sun

Today's baseball lesson: Be careful when you call a team a budding juggernaut.

Case in point: the Chicago White Sox.

They cruised to the 2005 World Series title, and then got better. Within weeks, they re-signed first baseman Paul Konerko and traded for slugger Jim Thome and starting pitcher Javier Vazquez.

It was a potential dynasty, built by take-no-prisoners general manager Ken Williams and managed deftly by Ozzie Guillen.

In less than two years, it's all unraveled. Now, the White Sox are fighting to stay out of last place and might be the biggest sellers at the non-waiver trade deadline.

This from a team that won 90 games last season but failed to make the playoffs. The White Sox began 2007 with baseball's fifth-highest payroll - an estimated $108.6 million - and now could finish behind the lowly Kansas City Royals.

"You look up and down our lineup, we're not a fourth-place or last-place team," White Sox closer Bobby Jenks said. "It's just frustrating because we have the ballclub that can go out and make a run for a playoff spot."

The team's bullpen, second worst in the majors, is the biggest culprit. Jenks, who was the club's lone All-Star but has struggled lately and left-hander Matt Thornton are the only relievers left from the Opening Day roster. Earlier this week, Williams shouldered the blame.

"I have a great manager, a great pitching coach and if it's not getting done, it's because I didn't put the right pieces together," he said. "Bottom line."

The hitters haven't sparkled either. Third baseman Joe Crede and outfielder Scott Podsednik have been sidelined with injuries, and outfielder Jermaine Dye and catcher A.J. Pierzynski are having subpar years.

Dye, the 2005 World Series Most Valuable Player, is a free agent at season's end and is now on the trade block, along with second baseman Tadahito Iguchi and starter Jose Contreras.

There goes the dynasty.

Trying to cope

Tampa Bay outfielder Carl Crawford has been through all this before. Each of his six seasons as a Devil Ray, in fact. He's tried to put a positive spin on life as a baseball loser, but just can't do it anymore.

"We're only three months into the season and it feels like it's been a season and a half already," Crawford said.

This spring, there was optimism that the Rays could get out of last place in the American League East for only the second time in their existence.

But they come into Camden Yards for a three-game series starting Tuesday with the majors' worst record. This year's nightmare includes an 11-game losing streak.

"I can't really put my finger on it," said Crawford, who has club options that could keep him in Tampa through 2010. "We have a group of young guys that are all talented. We have a manager that's a smart guy. It just seems it goes downhill every year."

His own man

Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr., perhaps the most prepared player the game has ever known, said he talked to some Hall of Famers - Earl Weaver, Jim Palmer, Ferguson Jenkins and Ryne Sandberg - about what the induction experience is like while putting together a segment for his XM Radio show.

Eventually, he decided he didn't want to query anyone else. He'd rather let next weekend in Cooperstown unfold on its own.

"My first thought was, in preparation mode, to try to talk to as many [Hall of Famers] as you could to kind of sample what their feelings were and take from their experience," Ripken said.

"But then I started to think that the feeling should come from inside me and I didn't want to really poll other people when I talk to them."

Quote of the week

"No hard feelings. No love lost. They need to do what's best for the club. I need to do what's best for me."

- Arizona outfielder Eric Byrnes after his agent and the Diamondbacks broke off contract talks Thursday. Byrnes, a pending free agent, was reportedly seeking five years and $50 million, while Arizona reportedly offered a three-year, $22 million deal.

Quick hits

St. Louis Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter is headed for season-ending Tommy John surgery. He pitched just one game after signing a four-year, $63.5 million contract extension this offseason. ... J.D. Drew's Boston Red Sox honeymoon is over. He was booed at Fenway Park on Thursday after going 0-for-4.

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