With their AL Central growing more tenuous, the White Sox hope Contreras can post a sixth consecutive victory in the finale of a three-game set with the Minnesota Twins.
Chicago owns one of the lowest team ERAs in the majors at 3.67, but the starting staff’s recent struggles have played a big role in the shrinking of the team’s seemingly insurmountable division lead. The red-hot Cleveland Indians have won 11 of 12 to pull within 3 1/2 games of the White Sox, who have dropped seven of nine.
Chicago’s lead was 9 1/2 games on Sept. 7 and 15 games on Aug. 1. No major league team has ever blown a lead that big over the next closest competitor, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Contreras is the only starter that has been winning consistently, going 8-2 with a 3.45 ERA since the All-Star break. The only pitcher in the majors with more wins in that span is Houston’s Andy Pettitte (nine).
Jon Garland and Mark Buehrle may have blown their chances at winning the AL Cy Young Award due to their recent slumps. Garland has won once in his last seven starts, and Buehrle is 2-4 with a 4.69 ERA in his last seven.
Freddy Garcia has won only once in eight starts since July, and Orlando Hernandez is 2-6 with a 5.34 ERA since the break. Hernandez labored through 3 2-3 innings Saturday, allowing four runs and eight hits in a 5-0 loss to the Twins.
“It’s a bad time for me right now,” Hernandez said. “I don’t have answers.”
Contreras, meanwhile, has allowed three earned runs or fewer in five consecutive starts and won them all.
“Since the All-Star game and right before, he’s been great,” White Sox center fielder Aaron Rowand said. “I think the biggest difference between him early in the season and him this run he’s been on is he’s throwing strikes and is getting ahead of hitters. He’s working on a good tempo. It makes it a lot easier for us to play defense.”
Chicago opens a critical three-game set against the Indians on Monday, then plays four more games against the Twins.
Minnesota has held Chicago to two runs and 10 hits in this series, and has given up a total of nine runs in its last five games overall.
Johan Santana struck out 13 in eight-plus innings for Minnesota on Saturday. Santana loaded the bases with no outs in the ninth before closer Joe Nathan came on to strike out the side for his 38th save.