clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

White Sox Face Twins In AL Central First-Place Showdown

(Sports Network) - First place in the American League Central will be at stake when the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins start up a key three-game series tonight from U.S. Cellular Field.

The two teams are presently tied atop the Central standings with identical 63-49 records and are comfortably ahead of the rest of the pack, with fading Detroit nine games behind the pair in third place. The scenario is starting to resemble that of the 2008 campaign, when the White Sox and Twins needed a one- game playoff to determine that year's champion.

Minnesota enters this important set as the hotter of the two clubs, having prevailed in 12 of its last 15 contests and amassing a 17-7 record since the All-Star break. The Twins have also had the upper hand thus far in the season series, taking six of their nine previous meetings with Chicago in 2010.

In addition, Minnesota had won six straight times at U.S. Cellular Field until the White Sox came through with a 5-4 home victory on April 11.

The teams will face one another nine times before the end of the regular season, including a three-game set in Minneapolis from August 17-19.

Chicago returns home in a bit of a rut after just dropping three of four road tests against a resurgent Baltimore squad. The White Sox did take Monday's finale of the wraparound set into extra innings, but were dealt a 3-2 setback when the Orioles' Brian Roberts led off the bottom of the 10th with a home run off reliever J.J. Putz (5-3).

The White Sox managed just five hits on the night, but were able to force extra frames when Paul Konerko opened the ninth inning with his 28th home run of the season. Juan Pierre went 2-for-4 with a run scored for Chicago, which stranded nine baserunners for the game and scored just 10 runs over the course of the series.

"I think they try to do too much," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said of his team's offense. "They're anxious. They want to win the game in one swing. They have to control themselves, believe in themselves."

Chicago did receive a strong performance from recent acquisition Edwin Jackson, who held the Orioles to two runs -- one earned -- and struck out seven over the first six innings, and hopes to get another one when Freddy Garcia takes the hill for tonight's opener.

Garcia has been a most pleasant surprise for the White Sox in 2010, with the veteran right-hander bringing an impressive 10-4 season record along with a 4.54 earned run average into this evening's clash. He had won just five games total and made 23 starts over three injury-plagued seasons prior to this one.

The 33-year-old's best work has come at home, where Garcia has compiled a 5-2 mark and a 3.73 ERA in nine trips to the U.S. Cellular Field mound so far this year. One of those losses did come against the Twins, however, although he allowed only two runs over seven innings in a 2-1 verdict back on April 10.

Garcia has faced Minnesota three times altogether this season and is 1-1 with a 3.15 ERA in those games. In 21 career starts against the Twins, the native Venezuelan is 10-6 with a 3.73 ERA.

In his latest outing, Garcia yielded only one run and five hits over 6 2/3 sharp innings last Thursday at Detroit, but wound up with a no-decision when closer Bobby Jenks served up a game-tying three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth.

Garcia will face a challenge this evening from counterpart Scott Baker, a pitcher with a very good track record versus the White Sox. The right-hander has won four of five decisions against Chicago since the start of the 2008 season, and the Twins have gone 6-1 in his seven matchups with the Pale Hose over that time period.

Baker has also fared well against other opponents as of late. The 28-year-old has gone 2-0 with an excellent 2.21 ERA over his past three assignments and fired eight shutout frames this past Wednesday at Tampa Bay, though he did not receive a decision in an eventual 13-inning Minnesota win that night.

The Oklahoma State product is 3-1 in four career starts at U.S. Cellular Field despite having posted a shaky 6.14 ERA over that span, but did pitch well in outdueling Garcia in that April 10 showdown in the Windy City. Baker worked seven innings and limited the White Sox to a run and five hits.

For his career, Baker is 5-3 with a 5.77 ERA in 12 starts against Chicago.

Minnesota resumes a 10-game road trip this evening and has gone 4-3 thus far on the trek. In their most recent stop, the Twins won the final two tilts of a three-game set in Cleveland and came through with a 5-4 triumph in Sunday's rubber match.

After falling behind 4-0 after two innings, Minnesota scored five times in the top of the fifth and got good pitching down the stretch to hold on. Jim Thome jump-started the Twins' rally with a two-run homer, with Orlando Hudson delivering a game-tying two-RBI double later on and scoring the go-ahead run on Delmon Young's fielder's choice grounder.

Minnesota starter Brian Duensing (5-1) was reached for three first-inning runs and another in the second, but settled down to hold the Indians scoreless before giving way with one out in the bottom of the eighth.

"I was a little angry about the way I pitched the first couple innings, but when [my team] put up the five runs, it gave me a little boost of adrenaline," Duensing said afterward.

Matt Guerrier took over for Duensing in the eighth and recorded the final two outs, with Matt Capps retiring the side in order in the ninth to close out the win.