The struggling White Sox will try to avoid a three-game sweep by the Cleveland Indians on Sunday, possibly needing a win to extend their season.
Chicago (86-74) lost its fifth straight Saturday, falling 12-6 to the Indians (81-80). The White Sox had dropped a half-game behind the Minnesota Twins in the division after being swept at the Metrodome earlier this week, but Minnesota hasn’t taken advantage of its position, losing the first two games of its weekend series against the Royals.
If the teams are still separated by one-half game after Sunday, the White Sox will play Detroit at home Monday in a makeup game. If Minnesota and Chicago have the same record after that contest, the Twins and White Sox will have a one-game playoff at U.S. Cellular Field on Tuesday for the AL Central title.
Cleveland last swept a three-game series in Chicago May 17-19, 1999.
“I think the best thing is just to say after 160 games we still control our own destiny if we win—as hard as that is to say because we don’t look like a winning team right now,” said first baseman Paul Konerko, who homered twice Saturday.
“We got to try block that out and start as fresh as we can tomorrow.”
It might not have come down to this if Chicago’s pitching hadn’t collapsed in the last few games. The White Sox have given up 30 runs in their last three contests, and the staff has an 8.66 ERA in the last five.
Javier Vazquez gave up seven runs over 4 1-3 innings on Saturday. The White Sox pulled within 8-6 in the eighth after Konerko’s two-run homer, but the bullpen gave up four runs in the ninth. Chicago’s relievers have a 7.71 ERA during the losing streak.
The White Sox did catch a break in this series when Cleveland scratched AL Cy Young Award favorite Cliff Lee from his scheduled start on Sunday because of a stiff neck.
Lee, who finishes the season 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA, was 1-0 with a 0.53 ERA against Chicago. Instead, the White Sox will face rookie right-hander Bryan Bullington (0-1, 5.59 ERA), a 2002 top overall draft pick by Pittsburgh.
Bullington made a five-inning scoreless relief appearance against Boston on Wednesday, striking out six while allowing only two hits. His lone start this season came against the Royals on Sept. 13, when he pitched 4 2-3 innings, allowing six runs in an 8-4 loss.
But to take advantage of the break, the White Sox need Mark Buehrle (14-12, 3.87), who will pitch on three days’ rest, to give them the strong outing that the rotation has failed to provide in the last week.
Buehrle is 0-1 with a 9.22 ERA in three starts against the Indians this season, but he’s been solid down the stretch, going 6-2 with a 3.41 ERA in his last 10 outings.
The left-hander pitched seven innings against the Twins on Wednesday, allowing three runs in a 3-2 loss, but he is 7-0 with a 2.17 ERA in his last eight starts at home.
Manager Ozzie Guillen said Buehrle, who threw a season-high 121 pitches on Wednesday, will be on a pitch count. Guillen will rely on the starter to tell him when he needed to be pulled.
“We have to be careful. I know this game is very important to us, it’s a do-or-die thing, but I’ve got to take care of those guys,” Guillen said Saturday.
“Because if you get hurt, if something happens to you because we tried to win the pennant—that’s not fair.”