A funny thing happened to the Chicago White Sox on their way to a disappointing offseason.
They decided to get off the mat and play baseball.
Two weeks ago, it had been 19 days since they had won a series. In that span their record was 5-11. Eight of the 11 losses were by two runs or fewer.
The bullpen was faltering and fighting through injury. Key cogs of the offense were struggling, and it seemed the starting rotation was finally tiring.
Flash back to early June, when the Sox sat 9.5 games out of first place. The offense was nonexistent. The bullpen was inconsistent (save for Sergio Santos). The starters? Less than persistent.
Then the Sox started to streak. They ran off a disgusting 25-5 record from June 9 to the All-Star Break and finished the first half in first place.
Just as they did then, the Sox have come alive right when everyone counted them out, and with the rival Twins pulling out close games, the stage is set for an exciting finish to the season in the AL Central.
"We Ain't Goin' Nowhere"
The fabled "dog days of August" looked as if they had stopped the Fighting Sox in their tracks as they limped back into Chicago.
They had just dropped 2 of 3 games to the Royals in exhausting fashion: All three games went to extra innings and rain forced a Saturday night doubleheader that started at 6:10 pm and ended well after 2 in the morning.
Yet, after that dreadful week of play, the White Sox were only 4.5 back of Minnesota. Five games might have spelled the end of the season, certainly a much harder mountain to climb. But 4.5 games were manageable.
The Sox had a chance to make a move, to put some pressure on the Twinkies. And they have.
A perfect 7-0 week and a 10-3 record since August 23 has the White Sox not only 3.5 games out of first, but six games out of the AL Wild Card lead.
Suddenly, Sox fans are doing something they hardly ever do.
The Final Foes
As the MLB season winds into the final 25 games, the Sox and Twins once again find themselves vying for the AL Central crown.
Both squads have been beset by injuries to key players--Joe Nathan, Justin Morneau, and Jason Kubel have gone down for the Twins, while Jake Peavy, Matt Thornton and J.J. Putz have seen time on the disabled list for the White Sox.
As of late, both teams have been able to get the timely hit while receiving some welcome luck. Case in point: Michael Young's "phantom clap" that gave Minnesota a 6-5 victory over Texas on Sunday, along with Brandon Inge's overturned home run yesterday that allowed the South Siders to outlast Detroit 5-4 in 10 innings.
Needless to say, the three-game series in Chicago next week will be huge. However, there are three other sets to watch for White Sox fans:
Sep. 20-22 at Oakland
The final road trip of the season starts at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, which has not been kind to the Sox in years past. The A's are well out of the AL West race, but boast a pesky lineup and a young pitching staff on the cusp of stardom. A letdown could be possible after facing Minnesota and Detroit at home, so the ChiSox need to stay alert.
Sep. 27-30 vs. Boston
The BoSox suffered a humiliating sweep at the hands of the Pale Hose this weekend and may have folded up the tent for the season. It remains to see if they have a run at the Wild Card left in them, but they remain a quality team with great pitching. A rematch with Cy Young candidate Clay Buchholz will test the White Sox's mettle.
Sep. 17-19 vs. Detroit
On July 10, the Tigers were 11 games over .500 and in first place. Now, they're in third and all but out of contention after a post-All-Star break swoon. Rick Porcello has had a sub-par season and rookie Brennan Boesch has come to earth after a torrid start to the season. Still, the (Paper) Tigers will come to play at U.S. Cellular following the Twins series, especially if the Sox win the next three at Comerica Park.
With the acquisition of Manny Ramirez, Kenny Williams officially made the decree that the White Sox were in it to not only win the division, but make noise in the playoffs. Manny has done his part, going 7 for 16 since joining the Sox.
Of course, Chicago has to make the playoffs first. As a Tampa Bay collapse is unlikely, the AL Central is the viable prize. That means beating the Twins (and Tigers) in Chicago next week.
As Magic Johnson once said about the Chicago Bulls, it's winning time. Those Bulls had Michael Jordan to step up and be the hero.
One wonders if this year's Windy City savior will have significantly more hair.
Until next time, keep waving the Pennant.
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