The Chicago White Sox might as well be in second place already.
They've dropped two of three to the lowly (but resurgent) Orioles and are one loss away from heading home in second.
The Minnesota Twins, meanwhile, toughed out a split with the Rays in Tampa Bay and have taken care of Cleveland.
The Sox have issues with their closer, Bobby Jenks, who has lost the faith of the fans and might soon lose the faith of his manager. Their star sluggers are slowing and a couple of untimely injuries to everyday players have popped up at precisely the wrong time.
On the other side, the Twins have done just fine without Justin Morneau and have found some insurance for first-year closer Jon Rauch in Matt Capps.
Yes, the pennant race is as good as wrapped up. The Twins will find someway to win the majority of their remaining games with the Sox, who will scuffle down the stretch with key games against New York and Boston.
Well, not exactly. However, baseball is a game of inches, and four inches the wrong way could cost the Sox their chance at the playoffs this week.
The best-laid plans...
Things were rosy at the start of the week, to be sure.
The Sox left Chicago with a series win over Oakland and won the first game of Tuesday's doubleheader with the Tigers in convincing fashion. Aside of Carlos Torres' first two innings that night, the Sox outplayed Detroit in every step of the game, and with them buried, the division race would be down to two teams.
All the Sox had to do to make sure of that was go into Baltimore and win three of four. Even though the Orioles had found a bit of a swagger under new manager Buck Showalter, the task seemed easy.
The O's have played smart and hard, matching the Sox in all facets of the game. Save for their bullpen in yesterday's game, the Orioles have had all the luck on their side, which was evident in the frustration on the faces of White Sox players in the last three innings of today's loss.
The magic number(s)
Both the Twins and Sox have said it's too early to watch the scoreboard. It is only early August and any lead under five games is still tenuous. But those numbers don't matter until the end of September.
The numbers that matter now:
-Bobby Jenks has 10.80 ERA versus Minnesota this season. If the games are close, look for J.J. Putz or Matt Thornton to get the ball in the ninth inning.
-In his last ten games, Carlos Quentin is batting .210 with a double and 3 HRs. In that span, he has only one multi-hit game (July 29 against Seattle), one walk and 9 strikeouts.
-Paul Konerko should have a big day against left-hander Brian Matusz; this season, PK is hitting .353 against lefties with an otherworldly 1.133 OPS.
-Bench production was key in Detroit, and must stay that way if the Sox want to beat the Twins. Ramon Castro's ninth-inning homer gives him five on the season and 13 RBI in only 68 at-bats. Brent Lillibridge has 14 hits in 37 at-bats, with seven of those going for extra bases (.676 slugging percentage).
"Oh, for a long one right here"
Harry Caray asked for it often in 1977, and often that year the South Side Hitmen would deliver.
Heading into a steamy August series at home against Minnesota, the White Sox might have to live by the long ball. Their 127 home runs is good for sixth in the league—and the only offensive category in which the White Sox are better than 10th. If the Sox can get men on base, a few timely long balls could halt the Twins in their tracks.
First things first, Edwin Jackson has to prove he is as tough as his first start indicated. A 5-2 week is nothing if they can't keep it going, and Jackson must shut down the Orioles to give the Sox some momentum heading into this division clash.
The end of the season is in sight, and the race starts now. Either the Sox start fighting hard, or my prediction at the beginning of this article will become an unsavory reality.
Until next week, keep waving the Pennant.
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