Rays-White Sox Preview
The slumping White Sox open a four-game series Thursday night against the streaking Rays, who are trying to win eight straight for the first time in eight years.
Chicago fell into second place in the Central for the first time since July 23 following a 6-4 loss to Cleveland on Wednesday, dropping the final two games in the three-game set.
The White Sox (82-73), who are now one game behind Detroit with seven games remaining, have lost seven of eight. They issued a season-high 12 walks Wednesday and went 3 for 12 with runners in scoring position.
Chicago has averaged 2.5 runs and hit .226 the last eight games.
"You're talking about a game lead, two-game, everything is so fragile. You talk about the momentum swings that can happen. This is one of them, the wrong way,'' Paul Konerko said. "It doesn't mean in two days it doesn't swing the other way."
Konerko's slump hasn't helped. After going 0 for 4 Wednesday, his season average dropped to .299 - the first time it has been below .300 this year. He's 8 for 44 (.182) over the last 12 games.
Things don't get any easier for Konerko and the White Sox. Tampa Bay (85-70) matched its longest winning streak of the season with a seventh consecutive victory Wednesday, defeating Boston 4-2 to continue its late playoff push.
The Rays are three games behind Oakland for the second AL wild card and must also overtake the Los Angeles Angels, but manager Joe Maddon is reminded of last year's late run and win on the final day of the regular season that propelled them into the playoffs.
"I want it to be exactly like last year,'' Maddon said. "It's starting to look a lot like Christmas."
Tampa Bay, which has outscored opponents 55-17 during the winning streak, appears to have the edge in the pitching matchup as the Rays look to win eight in a row for the first time since a club-record 12-game run June 9-22, 2004.
James Shields (15-9, 3.65 ERA), who is 7-2 with a 2.04 ERA in his last 10 starts, takes the mound. He went seven scoreless innings in a 12-1 win over Toronto last Friday, fanning nine to reach 200 strikeouts for a second straight season.
"I've worked hard over the last couple years to get my game back in action," Shields told the Rays' official website. "To be able to throw 200 innings and 200 strikeouts is definitely a goal in mind, and I'm proud to get there this year again."
The right-hander is 3-3 with a 4.95 ERA in 10 starts against the White Sox, including a 7-2 loss May 29 after giving up six runs and 10 hits over six innings.
The White Sox counter with Jake Peavy (11-12, 3.40), who is 4-7 with a 4.20 ERA since the All-Star break - and all four wins have come against last-place Minnesota.
He allowed five runs and eight hits over five innings of a 6-2 loss to the Angels last Friday.
"Maybe when this is over you'll look back on it and say 'this is nice,' but I need to find a way to win and get this team into the playoffs," the oft-injured right-hander said after his first 200-inning season since 2007.
Peavy is facing the Rays for the first time since 2010. He is 2-1 with a 6.48 ERA over three career starts against them.
The White Sox swept a three-game series against the Rays on the road in May.