Make Or Break For CWS

MAKE OR BREAK WEEKEND FOR CHISOX VS. BOSOX

The Chicago White Sox host the Boston Red Sox this weekend in one of many marquee series. We've decided to feature this one today in the NOTEBOOK for a few key reasons:

*Both teams are in pennant races
*Saturday's (WGN) and Sunday's (TBS) games will be nationally televised
*We haven't talked enough about Chicago's SIX-MAN pitching rotation yet!

It's been one of the quieter stories of the year. And, it may fall off the radar now that Edwin Jackson has been traded! The Chicago White Sox have been experimenting with a six-man starting rotation this season because of a unique set of circumstances. There were five veterans on the staff who deserved to be in the lineup if healthy. Newcomer Phillip Humber had been so great that you couldn't possibly take him out of the rotation. Some injuries here and there (Jake Peavy and John Danks) had taken it back to five men every so often. But, much of the season, the White Sox had been experimenting with something that hasn't been done before. And, IT WAS WORKING!

Many of us are old enough to recall when baseball switched from a 4-man rotation to a 5-man rotation. The Los Angeles Dodgers were at the forefront of this evolutionary tick back in the 1970's. Spark Anderson of the Cincinnati Reds, who managed in the Dodgers minor league system, also was an early adopter. Widespread criticism and skepticism (why take starts away from your best pitchers and give them to a guy who isn't good enough for your top four?!) eventually gave way to acceptance (man, this is working better than we thought it would).

The same kinds of things are being were being said a couple of weeks ago about the White Sox. Media members were skeptical. Former players were skeptical. White Sox announcer and former pitcher Steve Stone told everyone it would destroy the bullpen. Now that we're about 100 games into the season, this much is clear so far:

*It didn't hurt the rotation. Some guys are doing better than last year. Some are doing worse. But, as the runs come out in the wash, there's certainly no reason to say it wasn't working at run prevention.

*The bullpen has been great, so it's INSANE to suggest it's been killing the bullpen. Chicago enters the weekend with the 7th best bullpen ERA in the majors even though they play their home games in a hitter's park. The bullpen stats are much better this year than they were last year.

2011 Bullpen: 3.29 ERA , 1.27 WHIP
2010 Bullpen: 3.73 ERA, 1.39 WHIP

*The fact that this is working out pretty well isn't getting any coverage because the White Sox as a team haven't impressed. But…that's because the OFFENSE has been horrible! Chicago ranks 5th in the American League in pitching, just 10th in runs per game. Once you make mental adjustments for the influence of their home park, you're looking at an even bigger extreme.

That mix of solid pitching but poor offense has the White Sox one game below .500 entering the weekend. They're still in their divisional race because Detroit and Cleveland haven't been able to run away and hide. We showed you yesterday in the NOTEBOOK that it's going to take a strong White Sox finish to reach 90 victories. Maybe only 85 victories will be enough in this division. What happens this weekend vs. Boston will go a long way toward determining whether or not the White Sox will have a shot to reach 85 or 90 wins.

A 3-0 sweep…and we're looking at a contender flush with confidence after a fantastic weekend.

An 0-3 sweep the other way…and it's tough to see the White Sox being very relevant from this point forward. They'll be four games below .500 and self-aware of their limitations.

Oh…THE NEW YORK YANKEES COME TO TOWN NEXT!

This is just like what we saw with Tampa Bay a few weeks ago. A homestand against Boston and New York that will make or break the season. Tampa Bay fizzled, and is pretty much out of the mix now barring a miracle or two. That's a four-game set by the way vs. the Bronx Bombers (with Wednesday's game set for ESPN national coverage). Seven big home games are about to define the Chisox season. Because of the trade, they'll be attacking those seven games with five starting arms instead of six.

Maybe this is the end of the six-man experiment for good. It will be a blip in history nobody remembers down the road. Or, maybe it was a precursor to a new way to do things if you don't have any ace caliber starters, but you've got six innings munchers who can post a decent ERA as long as they're fresh. The sport is trending towards pitching depth given reductions in scoring since the end of the steroids era. At least we got to touch on it briefly here in the NOTEBOOK!

This weekend's pitching matchups…

TONIGHT
Boston: Wakefield (6-3, 5.15 ERA, 1.36 WHIP)
Chicago: Floyd (8-9, 4.11 ERA, 1.20 WHIP)

The White Sox have a chance to start the series off well with an edge on the mound here. This can be a particularly tough park for pitchers who don't get a lot of strikeouts. Wakefield can be home run prone when opponents are making contact. You see the edge in ERA and WHIP for Floyd. They'd flip flop records (at the very least) if these pitchers flip flopped teams. Boston's offense is very strong. Chicago's has been a big disappointment. Can Floyd do enough to shut down Boston so that his own offense can get the win?

SATURDAY (on WGN)
Boston: Lester (10-4, 3.23 ERA, 1.23 WHIP)
Chicago: Humber (8-6, 3.27 ERA, 1.08 WHIP)

You can see why Humber has forced his way into this rotation permanently. What a great WHIP this deep into the season! He'd have a record of 10-4 or so with a better offense. You can see he's neck and neck with Lester in ERA and better in WHIP. We're not yet fans of a six-man rotation. But, we can see why it makes sense if Humber is the sixth guy to get consideration because of salary commitments. You're going to bench Edwin Jackson or Jake Peavy? No, but you can trade somebody like Jackson for help elsewhere when the time comes. We're very interested to see how Humber handles the pressure this weekend. He caught people by surprise in the first half of the season. Now he's in a pennant race. And, now he's facing the best offense in baseball during that pennant race. Big test!

SUNDAY (on TBS)
Boston: Miller (4-1, 5.45 ERA, 1.87 WHIP)
Chicago: Beurhle (8-5, 3.22 ERA, 1.26 WHIP)

Wow…big edges for the White Sox in the final game. Miller hasn't been a disaster because he's been getting great run support. That WHIP is kind of a joke…not something that would be sustainable for a full season. Beurhle continues to quietly grind out quality stats without overpowering anybody. He may have been helped more than anybody by the six-man rotation. His numbers have improved, and there's certainly a freshness to his starts that haven't yet melted in the heat. If pitching matchups alone were the leading indicator in this series, the White Sox have a chance to win the series and climb back into the AL Central race. It really couldn't have fallen any better because they miss Beckett on the Boston side, and get to throw both Beurhle and Humber. Maybe that will just delay the inevitable until he Yankees series. Or, maybe…this is going to be a watershed week for the Southsiders.

We mentioned there are other marquee series this weekend. JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK is also paying close attention to:

LA Angels at Detroit
Texas at Toronto
Pittsburgh at Philadelphia
San Francisco at Cincinnati
Chicago Cubs at St. Louis (Fox-Sat, ESPN-Sunday Night)

We have big plays planned for each day this weekend. We won't be able to tell you much about them on the fly because Saturday and Sunday are reserved for college football conference previews this summer (the Big 12 tomorrow, the Big East on Sunday). Be sure you log on each day to purchase JIM HURLEY'S top plays. Or, get the most bang for your buck by signing up for the rest of the season. If you'd like to put together a football/baseball combination package, call the office at 1-800-323-4453.

Don't forget that early bird rates are still available for JIM HURLEY'S TOUCHDOWN CLUB. The sooner you sign up, the more you save!

It's a great time to be a sports fan with so much going on in baseball's pennant races, NFL comings and goings (Albert Haynesworth a Patriot!), college football surprises (Butch Davis fired!). Baseball is running strong and football will be starting before you know it. BE SURE YOU'RE GETTING ALL THE MONEY THIS SUMMER AND THIS YEAR WITH JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK!

This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by VegasSportsMasters.com and JimHurley.com. For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.

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