"Pretenders" and "frauds" are awfully strong words. So let's be nice, call the White Sox "unimpressive" and move along until they're in third place where they belong.

"Pretenders" and "frauds" are awfully strong words. So let's be nice, call the White Sox "unimpressive" and move along until they're in third place where they belong.
 Always fun, frenetic and hyped to high heavens, this year's Cubs-Sox series has been elevated to unheard-of heights because both ballclubs are in first place. ESPN televised Sunday night's 7-1 Cubs' victory at Wrigley Field, and the New York-loving network also will air next week's Sox Park rematch instead of -- can you believe it? -- Yankees vs. Mets.
 But let's be real, folks: The Cubs are Chicago's only prime-time team.
 Though we didn't need to see the White Sox get swept to know that these South Siders bear little resemblance to their 2005 championship-winning predecessors, confirmation never hurts.
 Obviously, the White Sox won't admit they are doomed, even after their eighth loss in 12 games dropped their once-comfortable lead in the AL Central to 1 1/2 games over nemesis Minnesota, five over surging Detroit and 6 1/2 over still-slumbering Cleveland. What they will admit is, as Ozzie Guillen said, "The Cubs kicked our (bleeps)."
 "The Cubs are legit," said injured Sox captain Paul Konerko, who could only watch in agony as his team wilted at Wrigley. "I have to believe they're the team to beat in the National League. It wouldn't surprise me if this is the year the Cubs go to the World Series. It's there for them to take."
 Sunday's victory was the Cubs' 14th straight at Wrigley, put them a major-league-best 20 games over .500 and increased their NL Central lead over St. Louis to 4 /2 games.
 In improving to 9-0 at home, Ryan Dempster got offensive support from Eric Patterson and Aramis Ramirez (home runs), defensive support from Ramirez, Derrek Lee and Mark DeRosa (sweet glovework) and lots of help from White Sox batters (three double plays in the first five innings).
 "They're the best right now," Guillen said. "They can beat you so many ways. Those guys have everything to win it. They know that. Lou Piniella knows that. They should win."
 Jeesh! Piniella's toughest job might be keeping his guys level-headed. Asked if these Cubs reminded him of his 116-victory Seattle team of 2001, Lou said "no" eight times in rapid succession.
 "I couldn't begin to compare them right now," he said. "Let's just wait. I don't like to get too far ahead of myself."
 Hmmm ... maybe that was Piniella's way of saying: "One-sixteen? You saying we can't win 125, pal?"
 As for the White Sox, the most Piniella would offer was, "They've got a good team."
 That lukewarm -- and overly generous -- endorsement came before the series began. It was tough to watch the weekend's carnage and conclude anything other than this:
 The White Sox are in first place only because the Tigers and Indians were kidnapped by aliens on April Fool's Day and replaced by a bunch of slow-pitch softballers.
 Offensively, the plodding White Sox live and die by the home run. Their pitchers are starting to buckle from carrying the load. (Hurlers who made Sox fans hurl over the weekend: Jose Contreras, Javier Vazquez, Octavio Dotel and Scott Linebrink.) They make far too many errors in the field.
 Oh, and Ozzie is losing his mind. One day after saying Jim Edmonds "doesn't scare me; I will pitch to him any time," Guillen ordered an intentional walk to the Cubs' resurgent center fielder.
 Really, how can any reasonable human count on this bunch?
 "One week we're on fire; the next week we shut it down," Guillen said. "Too hot or too cold. We're a roller-coaster team. We don't know what kind of week we're gonna have."
 As maddeningly streaky as Ozzie's lads are, couldn't they turn right around and sweep the Cubs next weekend at Sox Park? And why count out a first-place team, especially one in a weak division?
 Yes, the Cubs have a losing road record and the White Sox are tough at home. And yes, the Sox still have a decent cushion in the standings.
 Nevertheless, this series - starting with Friday's stunning come-from-ahead loss - had the look of one of those season-changers from which recovery will be difficult.
 Said Guillen of the sweep: "I don't think it's a good sign for the team."
 You're not the only one, Ozzie.
 Mike Nadel (mikenadel@sbcglobal.net) is the Chicago sports columnist for GateHouse News Service. Read his blog, The Baldest Truth, at www.thebaldesttruth.com .