After a crucial three game stretch that left every White Sox fan in complete and utter jubilation after suffering through heart attack-inducing, must-win games, the White Sox travel to St. Petersburg for a match-up with the feel-good story Tampa Bay Rays.
Everyone knows the Rays' story. They're the worst-to-first underdog story that nobody expected to be here. They don't have a .300 hitter, and have no legitimate MVP or Cy Young candidate.
But they're in the postseason. They fought off the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees and won the American League East outright. They've been solid all season and have the best home record in the American League.
So can the White Sox win? Yes, but it won't be easy.
The best thing the White Sox have going for them entering Thursday's series opener is momentum. Just like last year's Colorado Rockies team, the White Sox are coming off of a series of emotional wins that brought them to this point. Some teams get to the playoffs after a stretch like this and collapse. They gave everything they had to get here, and now they're drained.
However, like last year's Rockies, some teams continue riding that wave as long as they can. If the White Sox can take advantage of that momentum, they have a swinger's chance at beating the Rays. But that will all be determined Thursday afternoon.
The White Sox will start the struggling Javier Vazquez against the Rays' young lefty James Shields. Vazquez has easily been the most inconsistent of the White Sox's four primary starters, and has struggled the most down the stretch. His last two starts were atrocious, albeit on three days rest, and starting him in game one is definitely a risk.
That being said, Vazquez has, and has always had the potential to break out with a big game. He's the kind of pitcher who can look absolutely horrible in one start, and in the next be completely unhittable.
It's easy to doubt Vazquez because, let's face it, he flat out hasn't performed well. He's dropped three straight decisions and hasn't made it out of the fifth inning in any of those starts. But the start prior to that streak, Vazquez threw 7 2/3 innings of scoreless ball allowed only two hits, and struck out eight.
It's feast or famine with him.
The way the White Sox have their rotation set up, if they can pull out a victory with Vazquez on the mound, they will become favored to win that series. With Mark Buehrle, Gavin Floyd, and John Danks starting games 2, 3, and 4, respectively, and Buehrle potentially coming back on three-days rest for game five, the White Sox will be primed for a series win.
But for now it all rests on Vazquez's shoulders. Ozzie Guillen challenged him for not being a big-game pitcher two weeks ago and Vazquez faltered on three-days rest. Well this time he's on full rest and has no excuses. He needs to perform for the White Sox to win.
If they don't win Thursday's contest, they're not necessarily dead in the series. Buehrle has been the team's stopper all season and it should be expected that he will bring his best stuff in game two, and after that with Floyd and Danks, it's a toss-up.
But Vazquez's performance is critical for momentum's sake. The White Sox have built a ton of momentum with the team's performance over the past three days, and it will continue with a strong outing out of Vazquez.