(Sports Network) - Two teams in the midst of heated playoff races will square off tonight at Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field, where the New York Yankees invade the Windy City for the first of three straight meetings with the White Sox.
The defending world champion Yankees enter this key series tied with Tampa Bay atop the American League East standings, with both teams 5 1/2 games ahead of third-place Boston for the Wild Card lead. Chicago finds itself 3 1/2 games back of first-place Minnesota in the AL Central race, but was able to keep pace with the Twins after coming through with a needed 8-0 victory over visiting Baltimore last night.
Edwin Jackson threw eight dominating innings to lead the way for the White Sox on Thursday, with Alex Rios pacing Chicago's 14-hit attack with a 3-for-4, three-RBI performance that included his 18th home run of the season.
Paul Konerko, Carlos Quentin and Mark Teahen each finished with two hits and an RBI for the White Sox, who took two of three bouts from the last-place Orioles and improved to 37-25 at home for the season.
Jackson was the star of the show in Thursday's finale, however, as the recently-acquired right-hander yielded just three hits and two walks while striking out 10 batters for the second consecutive game.
"It was just one of those games where you put the pressure on the offense on the other side," Jackson said. "Just come out and control the game and not let the game control you."
In four starts since coming to Chicago in a late-July trade with Arizona, Jackson is 2-0 with a 0.96 earned run average.
Freddy Garcia will take the ball for Ozzie Guillen's squad in the opener of this important set, with the veteran hoping to get back on track after a string of rough outings. The right-hander has allowed four runs or more in each of his past three starts and hasn't registered a victory in four appearances since a home verdict over Seattle on July 29.
Garcia did pitch well for the majority of his most recent start, limiting Kansas City to one run over the first six innings of last Saturday's matchup with the Royals. However, he was charged with three runs while failing to make it out of the seventh and wound up with a no-decision in an eventual 6-5 Chicago loss.
Prior to that outcome, Garcia was pounded for a combined 11 runs and 16 hits over 7 1/3 innings in home clashes with division-rivals Minnesota and Detroit. The 33-year-old served up five homers in those two games as well and has surrendered 13 long balls in 62 2/3 innings pitched at U.S. Cellular Field this year.
Garcia also received a no-decision against the Yankees back in April and permitted four runs in six innings that night. In 11 career starts versus the Bronx Bombers, he's 4-4 with a 4.36 ERA.
The Yankees come in having prevailed in six of their past nine contests, but did begin their present six-game road trip with a pair of losses in three matchups with Toronto. In Wednesday's rubber match, Vernon Wells went 3-for-4 with a homer and four RBI to help back eight strong innings from Brett Cecil as the Blue Jays posted a 6-3 win.
Toronto jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead after three innings and took advantage of a shaky showing from New York starter Phil Hughes (15-6). The All-Star hurler lasted only 3 2/3 frames and was hammered for five runs on six hits in addition to walking five batters. He had thrown a whopping 102 pitches before exiting.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi will go with A.J. Burnett in tonight's tilt and will be hoping the erratic righty can overcome his own recent struggles. The hard-throwing veteran is 0-3 with a subpar 6.08 ERA in four August starts and has given up five homers while issuing an unhealthy 10 walks in 26 1/3 innings over that poor stretch.
Burnett seems to have turned things around after yielding just one run and four hits through eight strong innings in a 1-0 loss at Kansas City on August 15. However, he was hammered for six runs and 12 hits in a forgettable seven- inning stint against the light-hitting Seattle Mariners on August 20 to fall to 9-11 on the season.
A visit to hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular Field may not help Burnett break out of his funk, as he's just 1-2 with a 5.60 ERA in three previous trips to the venue. The 33-year-old owns a 2-3 record with a 4.14 ERA over six career starts against Chicago.
Burnett will be attempting to pitch the Yankees to their seventh win in their last eight matchups with the White Sox. New York took two of three games from Chicago in the Bronx earlier this season, but lost three of four to the Sox in its lone visit to U.S. Cellular Field in 2009.