Mike Nadel's column from Sunday's Cubs-Sox game.

 Even in the context of it happening “only’’ against the White Sox — who are so bad their own general manager can’t stomach them — one can appreciate the Cubs looking like an actual big-league ballclub for a change.   Allowing only two runs during a three-game sweep of the crosstown rivals can impress even a cynic like me. So can Alfonso Soriano homering in each game. So can enough fine fielding plays to fill an entire Web Gems segment.   “A month ago, it seemed everything that could go wrong went wrong — and it snowballed,’’ Cubs reliever Bob Howry said after closing out Sunday’s 3-0 victory. “Right now, we’ve got guys diving all over the place making great plays, the pitching’s going good and guys are hitting with men on base. Everything is starting to come together.’’   Is it? They’re still four games under .500 and 7½ games behind the National League Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers. Though that puts them light years ahead of the White Sox, it’s hardly cause to start planning an October parade.   As is my annual custom at the completion of the second Cubs-Sox series, it’s time to assess what’s what on both sides of Chicago.    CUBBIE UPPERS: “We’ve been playing better,’’ Lou Piniella said. “It really hasn’t showed that much in the won-loss record, but invariably, if we continue to play better fundamental baseball, it will.’’   That’s not just hopeful talk by a hopeful manager. The Cubs ARE playing better.   Sunday, everybody in the lineup made at least one play ranging from very good to spectacular, with left fielder Soriano’s throw to the plate and first baseman Derrek Lee’s run-saving stop of Jim Thome’s rocket the best of the best.   The Sox are such a poor-hitting team that it’s difficult to ascertain where their impotence ends and the Cubs’ pitching dominance begins. Still, the Cubs do have a 3.01 ERA since June 2, tops in the majors over that span.   And it hasn’t just been Carlos Zambrano’s rebirth leading a better-than-expected rotation. The bullpen, deservedly maligned during the season’s first two months, has made significant improvement in recent weeks.   The Cubs still don’t score oodles of runs, but they’ve been more productive in clutch situations. They also are starting to see amazing things from Soriano, their $136 million investment.   “That’s who he is,’’ infielder Mark DeRosa said. “In April, he didn’t have a homer and a lot of people were pushing the panic button, but . . . I never doubted. The streaks he can go on, he can put us on his back.’’   The Cubs spent $61 million on Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis, pitchers who are returning to their mediocre norms after hot starts. If young lefties Rich Hill and Sean Marshall falter, a rotation that had been a strength could become problematic. Closer Ryan Dempster’s return to health is critical, too, because Howry is best as a set-up man.   Piniella has had to depend on young kids more than he had anticipated, and opposing scouts seem to have figured out Felix Pie and Ryan Theriot. What kind of second half will they and Mike Fontenot have? And what can the Cubs get from the catching position now that Michael Barrett has been banished?   The Cubs are 35-39 for a reason, and it’s not all bad luck. Even their best players are streaky, so the Cubs must be consistent in areas they can control every day: fundamentals, defense and hustle. Their recent work in those departments has to encourage denizens of Cubbieland.          NO JOY OF SOX: “We always think we’re going to turn the corner,’’ Ozzie Guillen says, “but all of a sudden, the corner’s a U-turn.’’    How his White Sox went from being one of baseball’s model franchises to having the American League’s lowest victory total — in less than a year’s time! — can’t be covered in the little space I have here. Let’s just use the words “total collapse’’ and leave it at that for now.   Their current 5-22 funk has dropped them 13 games under .500 and they soon will enter serious salary-dumping mode. Various reports have left-hander Mark Buehrle ending up anywhere from Boston to Atlanta to New York, and Tadahito Iguchi and Jermaine Dye probably will follow Buehrle out of town.   “The thought of trading people that helped us win the World Series two years ago makes my stomach turn,’’ GM Ken Williams said. “But something has to happen. I’m tired of watching this.’’    He’s not the only one. That wasn’t “Looooou’’ most fans were chanting at The Cell.    THE FUTURE: The White Sox have none. Not this year, anyway. As for the Cubs, this is a big week for them.   First, they take on a Colorado club that had been hot but just got swept in Toronto. Then, they welcome the Brewers into Wrigley for a three-game series. A 5-1 homestand could get Cubbieland hopping (and hoping). A 1-5 meltdown could make the Cubs as irrelevant as their South Side neighbors.   “Milwaukee’s a good team,’’ Piniella said. “They had a (bad) streak where they gave everybody opportunities and nobody in the division took advantage . . . and now they’re hot again. But forget Milwaukee. We gotta get above the .500 mark. Once we do that, we can look around."   Sounds like a plan.   Mike Nadel (mikenadel@sbcglobal.net) is the Chicago sports columnist for GateHouse News Service. Read his blog, The Baldest Truth, at www.thebaldesttruth.com.