If you watch ESPN – and if you read this site then there is about a 99.9999% chance that you do – then you have undoubtedly heard the “Three…is a magic number…yes it is…” commercial that seems to be especially ubiquitous during the morning hours.
If you are a fan of the Chicago White Sox, as I am, then this is a tune to keep in mind once next Tuesday rolls around. Why? That is when the Good Guys host the Twin Cities Piranhas in a three game set that will decide the AL Central.
Let’s preview the series and see just how optimistic White Sox fans should reasonably be about their team rising to the occasion in the most important series of the season.
White Sox-Twins: The Preceding Weekend
As I write this on Saturday morning, the White Sox sit 5.0 games behind Minnesota in the standings, thanks to last night’s thrilling come-from-behind home victory over the Royals. Each team has two games left before their pivotal tilt begins
The White Sox send Edwin Jackson to the hill today at home versus Kyle Davies. Jackson has been outstanding since the White Sox acquired him, although his history versus Kansas City is a bit checkered. Davies’ history against the White Sox is similarly checkered. Still, I think everyone would be shocked if the White Sox didn’t win this battle.
The Twins are in Cleveland, where they were shut down last night. Today, Nick Blackburn takes on rookie Carlos Carrasco and on Sunday it’s Kevin Slowey against Mitch Talbot. Carrasco and Talbot are better than you think, while Slowey has struggled since returning from injury. Blackburn has poor overall numbers but has been very good over the last 3-4 weeks.
All in all, I expect both the White Sox and Twins to split their games this weekend, meaning the Twins will still have a 5.0 game lead on Tuesday. From a White Sox perspective, this needs to be the absolute worst case weekend scenario. Losing any more ground is simply out of the question with only three weeks left in the season.
Update 9/13: Well, this didn’t go quite as planned. The Twins both of their weekend games while the White Sox split with Kansas City. So the Sox sit 6.0 games out as their pivotal series with Minnesota begins.
White Sox-Twins Preview: Tuesday
- First pitch: 7:10 CT
- TV: CSN
- Pitching Matchup: Francisco Liriano (13-7, 3.24 ERA) vs John Danks (13-10, 3.54 ERA)
This is a terrific pitching matchup in a series full of them. Liriano and Danks, both lefties, have had remarkably similar seasons. Not only are their overall numbers very similar, but their numbers against their Tuesday opponent are also similar.
- Danks vs MIN this year: 5 G, 2-1, 34.0 IP, 4.24 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 25:9 K:BB
- Liriano vs CHI this year: 4 G, 2-0, 24.1 IP, 4.07 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 20:13 K:BB
Both guys have actually pitched better against their rival this year than over their careers. Danks and Liriano have 5.00+ ERAs and 1.50+ WHIPs career against Minnesota and Chicago, respectively. And while both pitchers come into this game on the heels of at least two straight quality starts (Liriano has three straight), both have thrown up two duds out of their last six outings.
So history, both recent and distant, tells us that this may not be the low-scoring pitchers’ duel that we otherwise might expect just looking at the names.
Looking deeper into the numbers, Danks’ and Liriano’s home/road split this year should make White Sox fans feel better:
- Danks at home this year: 3.34 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, .218 BAA, 81:25 K:BB
- Liriano on road this year: 4.16 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, .266 BAA, 82:26 K:BB
Interestingly, while Liriano’s numbers match up with this career splits, Danks over his career has actually been about the same on the road as he is at home. Still, the fact that this game is in Chicago appears to be, from a pitching standpoint, a clear advantage for Chicago.
Which batters can we expect to step up?
For Minnesota, Michael Cuddyer absolutely owns Danks (1.369 OPS in 45 ABs). Joe Mauer hits .349 career against Danks but doesn’t hit him especially hard (.419 SLG). A positive for Chicago is that Justin Morneau has always hit well against Danks (1.222 OPS in 31 ABs) but remains out while dealing with the effects of a concussion.
Chicago’s players have about half the ABs against Liriano as the Twins’ players against Danks, but a couple guys jump out: Paul Konerko and Alexei Ramirez. Paulie has a 1.141 OPS and 2 HRs in 17 ABs against Liriano while Alexei has a 1.088 OPS in 17 ABs. Carlos Quentin, Alex Rios, and Mark Teahen, however, have been neutralized by Liriano.
White Sox-Twins Tuesday Prediction: Both teams have a couple of guys with especially strong numbers against the opposing pitcher, and both pitchers have struggled in this matchup. I expect a close game in which relief pitchers will likely play a big role during the last three innings. With the White Sox getting Matt Thornton and J.J. Putz back to go along with Chris Sale, this isn’t as scary a proposition as it was as recently as a week ago.
White Sox win it 6-5.
White Sox-Twins Preview: Wednesday
- First Pitch: 7:10 CT
- TV: WCIU
- Pitching Matchup: Brian Duensing (8-2, 2.02 ERA) vs Gavin Floyd (10-12, 3.91 ERA)
This is the game that terrifies me and that should terrify all White Sox fans.
Gavin Floyd’s terrific mid-summer run, which is his track record, helped propel the White Sox back into the AL Central race (almost exactly as I predicted, by the way) when they looked all but dead early in the season. Unfortunately, Floyd’s track record suggests that he’ll be just an average pitcher over the season’s final month (career 6-9, 4.22 ERA in 22 September starts).
As if on cue, Floyd has three starts giving up 5 earned runs or more since the calendar turned to August. Most frightening for White Sox fans is that two of those starts came against Minnesota and the third was his most recent outing against Detroit.
That’s not encouraging.
Duensing, on the other hand, is a guy who has pitched well in August and September. In 21 careers starts during the season’s final two months, Duensing is 9-2. He has a 2.81 August ERA and a 2.56 September ERA (though his WHIP is 1.36 and BAA is .280).
Against the White Sox Duensing is 3-0 with a 2.40 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in 9 career appearances, some of them out of the pen. Floyd has a 4.93 ERA and 1.48 WHIP in his career against Minnesota and is just 4-7.
(Stop me when you find something that leads you to believe the White Sox will win this game. Seriously. I’m trying really hard to find something.)
At home, Floyd is slightly better than he is on the road while Duensing is decidedly better at home (1.97 ERA, 1.10 WHIP) than on the road (3.66 ERA, 1.33 WHIP). Unfortunately, Duensing’s road numbers are better than Floyd’s career home numbers.
From a hitters’ perspective, Alexei Ramirez and Carlos Quentin are the only White Sox players who will be looking forward to this matchup. Alexei is 5-12 lifetime against Duensing with a .962 OPS. CQ is 5-9 against Duensing with 2 HR and a 1.822 OPS.
So Quentin needs to make sure he doesn’t get hurt between now and Wednesday because the White Sox will need his power to have a chance.
For the Twins, an entire phalanx of hitters will be looking forward to facing Floyd. Denard Span, Jason Kubel, and Joe Mauer all have OPS’ above 1.000 in 24, 35, and 34 ABs, respectively.
White Sox-Twins Wednesday Prediction: During June and July, Gavin Floyd was basically automatic. Every time he started you just knew the White Sox would have a great chance to win. While he hasn’t been terrible in August and September, his two recent outings against Minnesota, and his history against the Twins, are not encouraging.
Brian Duensing is one of the really good young pitchers that not too many people know about. White Sox fans and other AL Central aficionados do, but that’s about it. As September progresses, and over the next few years, that will probably change…and frankly, that sucks. The last thing the White Sox need is another annoyingly solid starter to haunt us for the next few years.
Even me, the most optimistic of all White Sox fans, cannot find a reason to predict victory on Wednesday. I hope I’m wrong.
Twins win 5-2.
White Sox-Twins Preview: Thursday
- First Pitch: 7:10 CT
- TV: CSN / MLB Network
- Pitching Matchup: Carl Pavano (16-11, 3.47 ERA) vs Mark Buehrle (12-10, 3.99 ERA)
I love Danks, Floyd, and Jackson. All are above average pitchers who typically give the White Sox a chance to win. But if you asked me who I’d want on the bump if my life depended on a White Sox W, I’d choose Mark Buehrle every time.
I’ve written before about Buehrle’s status as the ace of the White Sox and how underrated he is. A major reason for this is that while Buehrle’s overall career numbers are not overwhelming, he has usually stepped up big against two of the three teams that have been the White Sox main consistent rivals during Buehrle’s tenure: Minnesota and Detroit.
- vs Minnesota: 25-17 in 46 starts, 3.98 ERA, 1.33 WHIP
- vs Detroit: 16-8 in 29 starts, 3.01 ERA, 1.13 WHIP
(Cleveland fans, shut up. I know the Indians have killed Buehrle – 12-15 lifetime record – but that means nothing for the purposes of this discussion.)
This year, Buehrle has been predictably strong against Minnesota. He is 2-1 in three starts with a 2.74 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP. He’s only struck out eight Twins in 23 innings, but he’s also only walked three. Vintage Buehrle.
So if you’re a White Sox, you feel good about the man on the hill for you on Thursday.
Unfortunately, Twins fans will feel pretty good with their own mustachioed mound maestro: Carl Pavano. The Big Apple Pariah has resurrected his career with an outstanding season in Minnesota. And unlike many Minnesota pitchers, Pavano is better on the road (3.13 ERA, 1.05 WHIP) than at home (3.90 ERA, 1.24 WHIP).
He has not, however, been quite as good against the White Sox this season. His overall numbers are 2-1 in three starts with a 4.50 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, and a .315 BAA. In his defense though, Pavano does have a sterling 13:1 K:BB rate against Chicago, and 15 of the 28 hits he’s given up to the White Sox, along with 6 of the 11 earned runs, came in his last start against the Good Guys. His other two starts against Chicago were both very good.
So we really can’t know what to expect from the White Sox offense against Pavano Thursday night. He could shut us down or we could tattoo him again. Both have already happened this year.
And that’s where I like the White Sox chances. Buehrle’s worst start against Minnesota this year was his first, back in April: 8 innings, 4 ER. He went 8 IP, 3 ER his next time out, then 7 IP, 0 ER after that. The trend is going in the right direction, which is the opposite for Pavano.
The hitters to watch for the White Sox in this matchup, based on the history, are Paul Konerko (.963 OPS in 27 ABs), A.J. Pierzynski (1.045 OPS in 22 ABs), and Alex Rios (.924 OPS in 22 ABs). This may be a good day to rest Quentin though. He’s 0-10 lifetime against Pavano.
Minnesota’s hitters have much more established track records against Buehrle, who they’ve seen so often over the past decade. Denard Span has fared the best, with a 1.037 OPS in 31 ABs. Delmon Young has also done well, with a .942 OPS in 30 ABs. Conversely, Joe Mauer (.647 OPS in 46 ABs) and Jason Kubel (.624 OPS in 14 ABs) have not fared as well.
White Sox-Twins Thursday Prediction: If the first two games go as I predicted them, and the remaining games this weekend go as I predicted, the White Sox will need this win to move to 4.0 games back. That is a seemingly insurmountable advantage with so few days left on the regular season calendar, but it at least keeps the White Sox in it.
And I do think Mark Buehrle wins this matchup. He may even do it without any help from the bullpen. Buehrle knows when he needs to put the White Sox on his back, and he usually does it, especially against Minnesota.
Also, there are troubling signs for Pavano. He’s only struck out six hitters in his last 23 innings, although all three are quality starts (1-2 record). Plus, his last memory of facing the White Sox is getting hit around like a pinata.
A desperate White Sox team will come through a big victory on this night, and hopefully the momentum can carry the White Sox to a white hot finish to the season. They’ll need it to have a chance.
White Sox win 7-1.
White Sox-Twins: The Rest of September
Based on my predictions, the White Sox will be 4.0 games out heading into next Friday. A bounce here or there and obviously that number could swing in either direction by a game or two. We’ll see what happens.
But assuming 4.0 games is the deficit, will White Sox fans have any reasonable hope of a late season surge? Here are the remaining schedules for the two squads.
- vs DET (3)
- @ OAK (3)
- @ LAA (3)
- vs BOS (4)
- vs CLE (3)
- vs OAK (3)
- vs CLE (3)
- @ DET (3)
- @ KC (3)
- vs TOR (4)
Not really much of an advantage either way. Both teams have 10 games at home and 6 on the road. Both play Oakland, Cleveland, and Detroit. Both get an AL East squad out of the race, and both go on the road to face teams that aren’t very good this year (KC and LAA).
Basically, the White Sox will need to catch fire and the Twins will need to collapse. Is it possible? Of course it is. Is it probable? Probably not.
But the joy of being a fan is knowing that as long as your team has a mathematical chance, something crazy could always happen. And we watch, and we hope, and we implore both our teams to rise to the occasion and the sports gods to smile down upon us with benevolence.
For the White Sox, being five games out with just 3+ weeks left is tantamount to hanging by a thread. But at least we’re hanging and have a reason to stay engaged during September. Now let’s just hope that we’re not hanging on in vain.
Last night’s comeback win over Kansas City was huge and certainly rekindled my excitement. And I like our chances at home against Minnesota next week. As Hawk would say, don’t stop now boys…
* – AJ / JJ photo source: SBNation
* – Paulie/Buehrle photo source: RightWingHouse.com
* – Brian Duensing photo source: TwinkieTown.com