By: Laurence W. Holmes–

CHICAGO (WSCR) There has been a lot of disappointment and anger about the 2011 White Sox. It’s justified. The Sox have underachieved. They’re still two games under .500. Adam Dunn, Gordon Beckham and Alex Rios haven’t played to their numbers. Juan Pierre continues to struggle. Jake Peavy is in and out of the rotation with injuries. The Sox bullpen gave away some games early. There’s a lot to be angry about, but here the Sox sit in the middle of the A.L. Central race. It may not seem like it, but the Sox are in this thing at four and a half games back.

This is the time of year where the Sox historically make a push. They feast on the National League. In fact, after taking two of three from the Cubs, the Sox won their last 17 consecutive series against the N.L. They’ll get a boost from that, but there are actually some other reasons to be a little optimistic about where the Sox are:

1) Paul Konerko is having an MVP season- His numbers are sick: He’s hitting .329 with almost .400 OBP, 21 HR, 59 RBI. A model of consistency.

2) Sox bullpen is actually settled now- Everyone is in their right roles. Sergio Santos looks dominant as the Sox closer. That slider is almost unhittable. Matt Thornton is back to being one of the best set-up men in baseball. Jesse Crain is a fantastic compliment from the right side. The Sox ‘pen hasn’t given up a run in their last 10.2 innings pitched.

3) Phillip Humber isn’t showing any signs of regression- It seemed like only a matter of time until Humber would slow down and start getting hit, but he hasn’t. He has a 2.90 ERA and a his WHIP (Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched) is a sparking 0.978 (anything below 1.2 is pretty good). He’s Sox best starter.

I won’t bore you by going on, but there are some encouraging signs including Alex Rios being on a five-game hit streak.

The Sox aren’t perfect. They have flaws and the fact that Adam Dunn is a strikeout machine right now doesn’t help the argument. They could do a better job with runners in scoring position. With all their flaws, here the Sox sit four and a half games behind Cleveland. The division isn’t very strong. The Sox could find themselves in first place by the All-Star Break.

Now here’s the cold water: None of this matters if the Sox don’t play better in their own division (6-11), especially against the Twins (0-4). By the way, the Twins are only three games behind the Sox and only one in the loss column.

-Tom Thibodeau is a great coach, but he needs work on throwing out the first pitch. Thibodeau was at the Sox-Cubs finale and threw from the grass and barely got it to the plate. That would’ve been fine ordinarily, but right before Thibs threw, Jake Peavy’s 10-year-old son threw from the rubber and got it there in a hurry.

-There were some bad fundamentals from the Cubs on Wednesday night. In the fourth inning, Kosuke Fukudome, who is usually a pretty sound outfielder, took an awful route on A.J.’s single. Then, Doug Davis quit on the suicide squeeze and allowed Lillibridge to get to first. Next, it was Blake DeWitt who had a brain cramp. DeWitt booted a ball that would’ve ended the inning and then didn’t look to first to try and get the slow running A.J. Pierzynski.

Mike Quade said at the beginning of the series that he thought the Cubs could get back to .500 by the All-Star break. Not by playing like that. The margin for error is so small for the Cubs, they have to play heads up ball all the time if they want to win.

-If you’re looking for a great rivalry, step outside the box and make room to watch team USA take on Mexico in the CONCACAF Gold Cup Final. These two teams hate each other.

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