There are several key players who would need to come up large for the Chicago White Sox in the last three games of the regular season. When listing those players in order of importance, however, you'd have to rate any member of the White Sox 11th at best.
That's because the 10 guys playing for the Kansas City Royals would have to appear on such a list.
Kansas City, who faces Detroit this week, has to come through for Chicago to have any hope of extending the season past Wednesday. The Royals must sweep the Tigers to give any meaning to the White Sox's late-season heroics.
Detroit's magic number is one following Sunday's action. The Tigers beat Minnesota, and the White Sox dropped their third of four games to the Tampa Bay Rays. The 6-2 defeat just about closed the book on a South Side team that exceeded our expectations but has run out of gas in the final weeks.
The White Sox led the AL Central by three full games following a 5-4 win against the Tigers at U.S. Cellular Field September 17. Chicago has gone 3-10 since that night. Detroit has put together a 9-4 stretch to put itself on the verge of consecutive division titles.
Forget Chicago's horrendous records against the Royals and Tigers for the time being. This White Sox club just didn't have the starting pitching at the end of this fight. Jose Quintana lasted a mere four innings Sunday to go with Chris Sale's 3.1-inning outing the day before.
Sale was a big reason that the White Sox were in first for long stretches of 2012. At the end of the day, though, Chicago just couldn't find the arms to pitch them into the playoffs. With White Sox hitters batting under .140 with runners in scoring position the last two weeks, a staff loaded with rookies for most of the season had no margin of error.
Don't blame the schedule makers. The Tigers may be feasting on the Twins and Royals of late, but the White Sox had their crack at both of those teams when they were playing better baseball than they are now. This season is 162 games. Chicago just looks like it's going to come up a few short.
Stranger things have happened, of course. The White Sox could still win their three remaining games in Cleveland. Detroit could drop all three games in Kansas City, forcing a playoff to settle the division. Chicago is 4-2 at Jacobs Field this season, but Monday's starter, Hector Santiago, failed to make it out of the fourth inning last week against this same Indians lineup.
The White Sox will need huge performances by Santiago, Jake Peavy and Gavin Floyd in this last series of 2012, along with the offense generating runs. Still, Chicago must hope for the Royals to play the role of spoiler.