September 02, 2011
As the pennant races start to heat up, Big League Stew will be there to take a closer look at some of the biggest series down the stretch.
The situation: As the Tigers began to establish a lead over the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central, many fans and observers said the team that Detroit really needed to beware of was the White Sox.
Now, here we are. The White Sox are 5 1/2 games behind the Tigers. Winning two out of three or sweeping this series really tightens the race. And many Tigers fans will start rocking in place, babbling "Uh-oh... 2009... Minnesota Twins... seven-game lead... Game 163..." in an endless loop.
Previously on: The White Sox took two of three in their previous series versus the Tigers at U.S. Cellular Field, with John Danks(notes) and Mark Buehrle(notes) getting wins. Guess who's pitching this weekend? Chicago also won two of three the last time these two teams played at Comerica Park.
What's left: The Tigers and White Sox have one more three-game series to play, from Sept. 12-14 at Chicago.
For starters: The opener features a clash of aces — Danks and Justin Verlander(notes). Saturday's game features Gavin Floyd(notes) versus Brad Penny(notes). And in Sunday night's nationally televised series finale, Buehrle opposes Max Scherzer(notes).
Drive for 25: Verlander won his 20th game in his last start. He has five starts remaining this season. Can he be the first pitcher to win 25 games since Bob Welch won 27 in 1990? How about the first to 24 wins, since Frank Viola in 1988?
The last game Verlander lost this season, by the way, was against the White Sox on July 15.
Team Charlotte: With rosters allowed to expand Sept. 1, the White Sox are expected to call up two to three players from Class AAA Charlotte. They'll join the trio of Dayan Viciedo(notes), Alejandro De Aza(notes) and Tyler Flowers(notes), who have provided a youthful boost to the lineup.
"I don't think they even know we are in the pennant race," [manager Ozzie] Guillen said. "They should go out and have some fun. I think they react very well. They play well. When you play baseball and you think a little bit less, you are better off."
The ballad of Ozzie and Kenny: If the White Sox don't make a respectable showing in this series and end up falling further back in the AL Central, will it erode what little goodwill might remain between manager and GM (Kenny Williams)? Reports say their working relationship is "beyond repair." Guillen publicly asking for a contract extension during a playoff race surely hasn't helped matters. Both men are drama kings.
Mr. September? Jim Leyland's detractors love to point to his poor second-half records (a cumulative 170-200) as Tigers manager, especially the collapses in 2007 and 2009 that cost Detroit a playoff spot.
Yet, a look at Leyland's records in September says he might get kind of a bad rap. Yes, he's 67-67 in his five previous seasons in Detroit, but the 2008 club (8-18) was just playing out the string and what the 2009 team (16-12) experienced was less a collapse than an avalanche, buried under a frenetic 17-4 finish by the Twins.
Did you know...: Buehrle's career record against the Tigers is 18-9 with a 3.13 ERA.