For the Chicago White Sox to capture the American League Central Division in 2012, they will have to walk a familiar road. That road runs right through their closest competition.
The White Sox face off against the Tigers in what promises to be the first of two crucial series with Detroit. Chicago leads the second place Tigers by three games. A Detroit sweep could give them a share of the AL Central lead with less than a month to play in 2012.
On the other hand, the White Sox have a chance to take control of the division. Chicago has seven games with Detroit in the next two weeks.
Sandwiched between those two series are home dates with Minnesota and Kansas City. In fact, following this weekend's three-game set at Comerica Park, the White Sox play 17 of their last 29 games at home.
Eighteen of those games will be played against the worst three teams in the American League, namely the Twins, Royals and Indians. Before you give the edge to the White Sox, keep in mind that Detroit faces those same three teams 19 times.
Both teams have a lot of winnable games on the horizon. It is likely going to come down to the remaining head-to-head matchups between the two teams vying for the AL Central flag. That's really as it should be.
The White Sox have total control of their destiny. If they want to make the playoffs as a division champion, it's as simple as winning the majority of the seven meetings with the Tigers.
Despite dropping three of four in Baltimore, the White Sox maintain the three-game cushion thanks to the Royals, who swept the Tigers this week. Taking advantage of the unexpected good fortune would really put Chicago in the driver's seat.
Jake Peavy faces Doug Fister in Friday's opener. The White Sox send out Francisco Liriano against Maz Scherzer Saturday, while Chris Sale opposes Justin Verlander Sunday night on ESPN. Taking any of those games would guarantee a two-game advantage coming into a 10-game homestand.
Dylan Axelrod, who was Chicago's lone winner in Baltimore, was sent to Double-A Birmingham following his outing Wednesday. He should be back when the rosters expand in time to make his next start.
Coming up to the roster from Charlotte are infielder Jose Lopez and catcher Hector Gimenez, who will back up A.J. Pierzynski while Tyler Flowers joins his wife as she has a baby. Lopez played third base and had two hits in Chiago's 5-3 loss to the Orioles Thursday and provides some added versatility for the weekend.
Soon, rosters will expand and the Tigers and White Sox will begin the last furious push to the end of the regular season. For now, Chicago can see the path to where it wants to be running directly through Detroit.