White Sox, Twins shuffle starters for series

Tim Brown
Yahoo! Sports

Two teams go in. One team comes out.

Or, all right, maybe two.

It’s a dome thing.

The AL Central, which right about now was supposed to be toasting Mike Ilitch’s wallet, Dave Dombrowski’s brilliance and Jim Leyland’s genius in Detroit, instead gets three games in the Metrodome, starting Tuesday night, Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins.

With a magic number of five – and three games up in the loss column – Ozzie Guillen’s thick-necked piranha hunters could by Thursday night land their second division title in four years.

That would require winning three games at the puffy ballpark on Kirby Puckett Place, where the Twins hardly ever lose and the White Sox have lost five of their last six, nine of their last 12 and 19 of their last 30.

Remarkably, the Twins remained competitive (and damned annoying to Ozzie) despite losing Torii Hunter and Carlos Silva (he did win 13 games last season) to free agency, Francisco Liriano (for four months) to Tommy John recovery and Johan Santana to fiscal timidity. Turns out, Santana’s former team has two fewer wins than his current team; to be fair, his former team actually employs relief pitchers.

Ozzie’s been rallying his starters for this series, last time through the rotation pitching Mark Buehrle, Gavin Floyd and Javier Vazquez on short rest (result: two losses, one win) so they set up on regular rest at the Metrodome. He’s challenged Vazquez, who opens the series against Scott Baker, to bury his career ghosts and become a big-game pitcher, to which Vazquez responded that he’ll someday return to his native Puerto Rico and be a content man.

Ron Gardenhire, suffering through rotation issues himself, pitched Baker on three days’ rest last week (a loss in Cleveland) and will skip lefty Glen Perkins (four starts, 9.42 ERA in September) tonight, for Baker. Nick Blackburn (four starts, 7.58 ERA in September) and Kevin Slowey (four starts, 4.70 ERA in September) go Wednesday and Thursday nights.

And at the end of a long and dramatic season, the White Sox have been mulling/dreading/strategically positioning themselves for this series for weeks. Here it is.

Spoiler alert: San Diego Padres lefty Wade LeBlanc gets his fourth big-league start, his third against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and he’s trending upward. He allowed five runs in four innings to the Dodgers on Sept. 3, then one run in six innings at Dodger Stadium on Sept. 9. Two weeks later, in place of Jake Peavy, LeBlanc takes the ball again, this time opposed by Chad Billingsley, again at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers have won five of their last six against the Padres.

Mets bullpen moment of the day: Admittedly, it’s tough to look bad when your starting pitcher – Jonathan Niese – has just given up a grand slam to opposing pitcher Jason Marquis. But given six innings Monday night to keep the Cubs within four runs, the Mets’ bullpen allowed three more runs, killing any comeback ideas. In four games since Friday, relievers allowed eight runs (five earned) in 13 innings, blew two saves and took a loss. September bullpen ERA: 4.06.

Red September: Another miserable season in Cincy, but there is this: Since Sept. 5, the Reds have won two-of-three in series against the Cubs, Brewers, Diamondbacks, Cardinals and Brewers again. Hey, it’s something.

Think Sedona red: To their disappointment, the Dodgers might actually have to go out and do this themselves. Brandon Webb and Dan Haren are dealing again. Stephen Drew, Conor Jackson and Justin Upton are showing some life at the plate. And the Arizona Diamondbacks have won seven of eight.

After three starts (all losses) in which his ERA was 12.51, Webb has a 1.64 ERA in his last three starts (all wins). And after a three-start stretch with a 7.07 ERA, Haren has won two in a row with a 1.80 ERA. They each get one more start, in Colorado, Haren on Friday and Webb on Saturday. Randy Johnson, who goes Tuesday night in St. Louis, would pitch the season finale.

Tonight: Jerry Manuel breaks it down: “I just felt we hit a funk last year as a whole group, as a whole team, as a whole whatever, and never really came out of it. But I kind of see that a little differently now. I could be wrong.”

Well, the whole season comes down to these final six games for the Mets, who will get two more starts out of Santana; tonight against the Cubs and Sunday against the Marlins.

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