The defending champions take on the team they’re chasing in the AL Central when the White Sox host the Tigers in the opener of an intriguing three-game set at U.S. Cellular Field.
If Chicago pulls off a sweep, it would make up a 2 1/2 -game deficit to Detroit and take over first place. The White Sox led the division for all of last season, and had the best record in the majors for much of it, too, but have seen the surprising Tigers take control of the Central for much of this season.
“I don’t think anything that happens in that series is going to make or break anyone’s season, but I also know that the division usually is won with the head-to-head games with teams in your division,” White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko said.
Both teams enter the series playing poorly. Chicago (34-22) has lost seven of 10 while Detroit (37-20) dropped six of eight to close a 10-game homestand.
“A lot of people say it’s going to be a great series, between first and second place,” White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. “But both teams (aren’t playing) the way they should be playing.”
Detroit was swept at home in a three-game set from April 10-13 in its only series against Chicago this season.
“We can turn it around right now and get really, really fired up for Chicago, because that’s a team we really need to do some damage to,” Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge said. “And they’re the same team that came in and swept us three games in a row in our first homestand. So there’s a lot of importance to this next series.”
Detroit dropped two of three against the Boston Red Sox over the weekend, including Sunday’s 8-3 defeat at Comerica Park.
While the Tigers have struggled at home recently, they remain outstanding on the road. They not only have the best overall record in baseball but the best road record (20-7) as well.
Detroit has won eight straight away from home, outscoring opponents 52-25. It’s the team’s longest road winning streak since a team-record 17 consecutive road victories to open the 1984 season, when it went on to win the World Series.
The Tigers will hand the ball to Nate Robertson (5-3, 3.42 ERA), who lost his last start after winning his previous four decisions. On Wednesday against the New York Yankees, Robertson pitched a season-high 8 2-3 innings, giving up six runs and 10 hits while striking out seven in a 6-1 loss.
“I care so much when I’m out there,” said Robertson, who is 4-4 with a 4.33 ERA in 11 starts against the White Sox. “And when you care that much, it hurts. But it’s one game. I’ll be ready in Chicago.”
The left-hander pitched seven innings against the White Sox in April, giving up four runs and five hits while striking out six in a 4-3 loss. One of the hits was a home run by Jim Thome, who was 2-for-4 with a double.
The White Sox hope to have Thome back in the lineup on Tuesday after the designated hitter missed the last three games because of a sore left groin. Despite sitting out, Thome ended the weekend leading the AL with 20 home runs and 52 RBIs.
While having Thome back provides Chicago with a boost offensively, the team is looking for a solution to its recent pitching problems. The White Sox have given up 34 runs over the last four games, and their relievers have blown three of four save opportunities this month.
“You wonder when they are going to click and you wonder when those guys are going to be throwing the ball the way they used to throw the ball,” Guillen said after his team lost 10-2 to the Texas Rangers on Sunday in the finale of a three-game series.
With the bullpen struggling, Guillen looks for Freddy Garcia (7-3, 4.57) to go deep into Tuesday’s game. After winning seven consecutive decisions, the right-hander has lost his last two starts, allowing a total of 10 runs and 20 hits in 11 2-3 innings.
Garcia got one of the wins when Chicago swept Detroit earlier this season, giving up three runs and five hits in six innings of a 5-3 victory. He’s won six of his last seven outings against the Tigers, going 12-5 with a 3.60 ERA in 20 career starts against them.