While the Chicago White Sox might normally like their chances of increasing their AL Central lead with the Seattle Mariners coming to town, they could have their hands full this weekend against the hottest team in baseball.
Chicago tries to continue its recent domination in this series Friday night in the first of three versus a Seattle club hoping to win nine straight for the first time in nine seasons.
The White Sox (68-55) have had their way with the Mariners (61-64) of late, outscoring them 136-68 while going 21-4 since the start of 2010. Chicago has taken five of six meetings this season, including two of three at U.S. Cellular Field when the teams last played June 1-3.
Seattle, though, has picked up the pace considerably since the All-Star break, going 25-13 to post one of the majors' best records over that stretch.
The Mariners concluded a nine-game homestand with their eighth consecutive win Wednesday, beating Cleveland 3-1 thanks largely to Eric Thames' tiebreaking two-run double with two outs in the eighth inning.
"It only takes one swing, one play to be a hero," manager Eric Wedge said. "Everybody is doing their part, it's not just the same guy or same group of guys; we've got everybody contributing."
Though Seattle, which last won nine straight May 27-June 5, 2003, has had plenty to celebrate recently, much of its success has come at home. The Mariners have won 15 of 16 at Safeco Field but could have a hard time keeping things going on the South Side of Chicago, where they've dropped 16 of 19 dating to 2008.
After getting swept at Kansas City last weekend, the White Sox returned home to take all three matchups against the New York Yankees. Chris Sale struck out 13 and Alex Rios hit his 20th homer as Chicago won Wednesday's series finale 2-1.
"Winning those first two games and having a chance to sweep after getting swept in Kansas City goes to show what kind of guys we have in here," Sale told the White Sox's official website. "Every game is big from here on out - no games from here on out where we can take a night off. It's go time now."
Chicago now gives the ball to Jake Peavy (9-9, 3.11 ERA), who wasn't very sharp Saturday in a 9-4 loss to the Royals. The right-hander yielded five runs - three earned - and nine hits over 5 1-3 innings.
"It was ugly," he said. "... I felt awfully good tonight. When you feel that good and give up that many runs it's really frustrating."
Peavy, though, has posted a 2.18 ERA over his last six home starts, and he's 5-1 with a 2.21 ERA over eight career matchups versus Seattle. He allowed two runs and three hits over 6 1-3 innings June 1, although he didn't factor in the decision in Chicago's 7-4 victory.
The Mariners counter with Jason Vargas (13-8, 3.53). The left-hander is 6-1 with a 1.95 ERA in his last 10 starts, giving up three runs or fewer in each of those outings.
He scattered eight hits over 6 2-3 innings of two-run ball during Saturday's 3-2, walk-off win over Minnesota.
"I thought he pitched a real good ballgame," Wedge told the Mariners' official website. "Not as sharp as we've seen him, but what's separated for Jason now is when he's not exactly locked in - again, I still felt like he threw a real good ballgame - he's still able to get people out and make pitches."
Vargas has compiled a 7.13 ERA in going 0-1 over four career starts versus Chicago. In his last appearance in this series, he was tagged for nine runs and 10 hits over 5 2-3 innings during a 9-3 loss Aug. 28, 2011.