The AL Central-leading Chicago White Sox wasted a brilliant pitching performance from Chris Sale in his last start, unable to muster any offense against a former Cy Young Award winner.
It would seem the budding star could be poised for another gem in going up against a light-hitting Minnesota Twins team, and facing the struggling Nick Blackburn in Wednesday's finale also seems to bode well for the White Sox lineup.
In his first season in Chicago's rotation, Sale (8-2, 2.24 ERA) is already being mentioned as a possible starter for the AL All-Star team. He leads the league in ERA, and he has yielded two runs or fewer in six of his last seven starts.
The left-hander and Milwaukee's Zack Greinke were matched in a pitchers' duel Friday at U.S. Cellular Field, in a game the White Sox (39-35) lost 1-0 in 10 innings. Pitching on six days' rest, Sale went eight, allowing four hits and a walk while striking out seven, leaving a good impression on Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke.
"I see why his record and his ERA are where they are," Roenicke said. "He's really funky along with great stuff."
The Twins (30-43) are already aware of how overpowering Sale can be after he limited them to two hits - singles by Joe Mauer and Trevor Plouffe - while striking out six in seven innings of Chicago's 6-0 win on May 23.
It could be a similar story this time, considering Minnesota is 13th in the AL in runs with 295, and has scored two or fewer in five of the last eight games. Mauer is batting .438 in five games after missing three with a bruised right quadriceps but has driven in just one run, while Plouffe has one homer in his last 10 contests.
The Twins were on the verge of being shut out for the second time in four games Tuesday until Jamey Carroll's two-run single with two outs in the ninth inning. It wasn't enough, however, as the White Sox hung on for a 3-2 victory, their third in four games to increase their division lead over Cleveland to 1 1/2.
Chicago finished with five hits, with Alex Rios going 2 for 4 with a two-run homer and Alexei Ramirez adding a triple and RBI single. Ramirez is batting .471 with seven RBIs in his last 10 games, raising his average 31 points to .246, and is hitting .333 in 36 career at-bats against Blackburn (4-4, 7.45).
The White Sox haven't enjoyed much success against Blackburn, who is 7-2 with a 3.43 ERA in his last 10 starts in the series, but the right-hander hasn't been particularly sharp this season.
This is especially the case early. He has allowed at least one first-inning run in eight of his 11 starts, and opponents are batting .426 off him in the opening frame.
Although Blackburn has posted a 6.00 ERA in four starts since coming off the disabled list (left quad strain), the Twins have won each of those games. In Cincinnati on Friday, he allowed four runs on a pair of two-run homers and three other hits over five innings of a 5-4 victory.
Kevin Youkilis, 2 for 8 in his first two games with the White Sox, is batting .353 in 17 career at-bats against Blackburn.
- Nick Blackburn