For the Chicago White Sox, the key to competing in the AL Central Division is the same as it has always been. Win the games against your division rivals.
This is true every season but comes into sharp focus as the White Sox prepare to wrap up a four-game series with Cleveland. Eight days ago, Chicago was tied for the division lead. Last night, a 5-3 extra inning win kept the White Sox from falling a half-dozen games behind the Indians.
As it is, Chicago is now four games out of first with Jake Peavy taking the hill at Progressive Field Wednesday night. It isn't coincidence that the White Sox are 3-6 against Cleveland and Detroit since May 1.
Regardless of whether Chicago is a long shot for the playoffs or not, success in the division lays in beating the teams in the division. The White Sox had 10 games with the two teams closest to them in the standings and lost ground no matter how they fare in the last night of a seven-game road trip.
May is a key stretch for the team as division opponents visit U.S. Cellular Field for 11 games over the rest of the month. Aside from a two-game set in Anaheim and Round 1 of the Crosstown Classic with the Cubs immediately following, the White Sox are in for a lot of home cooking.
This weekend sees the first meeting with the Kansas City Royals this season. Chicago lost 11 of 18 games with the Royals in 2011. Detroit comes in for a pair of games before the White Sox take a break from division play with the Angels and Cubs.
Minnesota, currently floundering at the bottom of the Central with an 8-21 record, come in for three games starting on May 22. Chicago gets another crack at the Indians near the end of the month when they come calling for a three-game series.
Will that series mean anything to the White Sox by then? It all depends on how well they handle business against the rest of the Central Division in the next few weeks.