CHICAGO -- In just over two weeks, the Chicago White Sox have gone from a beaten-down team in total disarray to a confident ballclub that is practically unbeatable.
"A few weeks ago ... there's no easy way to say it, but it just wasn't very fun around here," said team captain Paul Konerko, whose eighth-inning home run Thursday lifted the White Sox to their ninth straight victory, 2-0 over the Atlanta Braves.
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"We've got smiles on our faces now. It's fun again, which is nice," he said. "The longer you can keep baseball from becoming a job, the better."When the White Sox lost to Detroit on June 8, baseball was more than a job -- it was a misadventure.They were 24-33 and 9 1/2 games behind AL Central-leading Minnesota. Their ballyhooed rotation was pitching horribly. They couldn't hit. GM Ken Williams was bickering with manager Ozzie Guillen and threatening to make major changes.Since then, the Sox have gone 13-1. They now trail the Twins by 2 1/2 games."It came out of nowhere," Konerko said. "It's not going to last forever but you try to ride it out until it ends and get as many wins as you can."The White Sox made quite an impression on the Braves, who came into the series as baseball's hottest team -- 34-14 the previous seven weeks -- but left town with their first three-game losing streak since April."That team right there is the best we've played this month," Chipper Jones said. "They're swinging the bats. And the back of their bullpen is dynamite. They're the first team I've seen that can shorten a game to six innings."While White Sox relievers have been outstanding, their starters -- such as Gavin Floyd, who combined with J.J. Putz and Bobby Jenks on a two-hitter Thursday -- have sparked the turnaround.In the last 15 games, a streak that began when Floyd excelled in the June 8 loss, Chicago's rotation is 11-1 with a 2.03 ERA and 14 quality starts."The way we're pitching right now, we expect to win," Guillen said. "Every time we go out there, everyone knows at the start of the game we're going to have a chance."All nine victories during Chicago's longest streak since 2006 have come against NL teams. The White Sox are 13-2 in interleague play this season and 141-103 all-time.Takashi Saito (1-3) relieved Derek Lowe to begin the eighth and gave up Juan Pierre's leadoff single. After a sacrifice and a flyout, Konerko lined a first-pitch fastball into the left-field bleachers.With the fans chanting, "Paul-ie! Paul-ie!" he came out of the dugout and waved his helmet. It was the 18th homer for Konerko, who is batting .410 with 22 RBIs in his last 21 games.Floyd allowed only two singles over seven innings, walking one and striking out nine. It was the fourth straight fine outing for the right-hander, who has yielded just three runs in his last 29 innings to lower his ERA from 6.64 to 4.80. Floyd has received two or fewer runs of support in 11 of his 15 starts.He has a career 1.71 ERA in interleague play, including 0.89 in his last seven starts.Putz (3-2) pitched a perfect eighth and Jenks a flawless ninth for his 17th save in 18 opportunities. Putz has made 15 consecutive scoreless appearances and Jenks has converted 12 straight saves.Lowe allowed five hits in seven innings and didn't give up a run for the first time since his initial outing of 2009."We got swept, but I don't think any of us are leaving here thinking we're a bad team," he said. "This White Sox team ... the way they're playing these last two weeks is off the charts."
Slumping White Sox 2B Gordon Beckham, one of baseball's top rookies last season, was on the bench Thursday and could face reduced playing time. He is batting .199 with one HR, leads the team with 48 strikeouts and has drawn only one walk in his last 29 games. Guillen, who used Brent Lillibridge at 2B Thursday, said: "When you strike out like that, you have to hit 40 home runs." ... Chicago had gone eight straight games without a HR before hitting four in this series, the first three by Carlos Quentin. ... Braves C David Ross bruised his right hand when hit by a foul tip Wednesday. X-rays were negative and he's day to day. ... Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said OF Matt Diaz (DL, right thumb infection) is swinging aggressively in batting practice. "I'm excited to get him back in the lineup," Cox said. "When he's going right, he hits everybody."