The Chicago White Sox begin play Monday with a clear objective. It's now a 29-game sprint to the tape in the American League Central Division.
As Austin Jackson hauled in the final out in a 4-2 win over the White Sox, completing the Tigers' latest sweep of Chicago, the situation in the division was brought into focus. This division is tied. Best team down the stretch wins.
Any talk of the three-game advantage Chicago took with it to Comerica Park is moot. That lead no longer exists. The White Sox are reeling from a 1-6 road trip that has set up a final push for the division flag.
If there is any optimism heading into the rest of September, it is that Chicago is in a slightly better position than it was back in July, when Detroit took a 1.5-game advantage following three straight wins over the White Sox.
As was the case following that last series, Chicago has three games with Minnesota back at U.S. Cellular Field. Bemoaning the 4-10 record against the Tigers and two deflating sweeps in the last two series isn't going to beat the Twins.
The White Sox are in need of a bounce-back series, much like their own sweeping of Minnesota in late July. In fact, Chicago won five in a row following the last Detroit series, after which the White Sox were back on top of the division by 2.5 games.
Hector Santiago is getting his first start of the 2012 season Monday in the opener with the Twins. In fact, Santiago will be making his first major league start with the division lead in the balance.
Alejandro De Aza homered in his first at-bat in returning from the disabled list, but Adam Dunn missed his second straight game Sunday. Dunn's availability for the Minnesota series and beyond will hinge on the condition of the right oblique muscle he tweaked last week.
Santiago is followed by Jose Quintana and Jake Peavy as starters on Tuesday and Wednesday. Depending on how Santiago's start goes Monday, Dylan Axelrod is also a candidate to take the mound for the White Sox in a 10-game homestand.
The homestand culminates with four games with the Tigers that may well put one of the two teams in the driver's seat in the final weeks. This is certainly Chicago's most important stretch of the season, and it begins in a dead heat with Detroit.