AL Central Championship On the Line

"Maybe this is justice, who knows," he said. "Maybe this is the way it's supposed to be. The two best teams in the division all year have to play one game to see who goes [to the postseason]."
--Tigers manager Jim Leyland

This is it.  This is for October.  One final contest with the world of baseball watching to see who comes out the victor.  Oh, and if you were asking yourself:  "Why are the Twins in Chicago for this game instead of the other way around?", you're not the only one.  The Twins are in Chicago because of a coin flip.  Apparently head-to-head results matter nothing--huzzah.

Now...are you ready?

Chicago White Sox  (88-74)
Home:  53-28  /  VS Twins:  8-10  VS Twins @ Home:  7-2
CWS @ Home:  .273/.347/.483    /    754 IP, 7.58 K/9, 1.24 WHIP, 83 HR
CWS vs MIN:  .289/.341/.486    /    155.2 IP, 6.65 K/9, 1.48 WHIP, 15 HR
CWS vs RHP:  .268/.333/.444

Minnesota Twins  (88-74)
Away:  35-46  VS Sox:  10-8  VS Sox away:  2-7
MIN Away:  .270/.335/.391    /    707 IP, 6.03 K/9, 1.50 WHIP, 100 HR
MIN vs CWS:  .283/.341/.440    /    156 IP, 6.00 K/0, 1.47 WHIP, 30 HR
MIN vs LHP:  .277/.334/.401

Starting Pitchers

John Danks:  Danks started four games against the Twins this season, three of those occasions were in Chicago.  Only one of those contests in Chicago saw him pitch effectively, when he threw five innings of six-hit, two-run ball back on May 8th.  Some of the Sox advantage for playing at home disappears by starting Danks, although on the whole the 23-year old southpaw did have a fine year.

Strengths:  Good fastball with movement, strikeout threat, keeps the ball in the park
Weaknesses:  Familiar to opponent, experience, can get away from his breaking ball
Red Alert:  Justin Morneau (1.675 OPS, 16 AB), Joe Mauer (1.381, 12), Michael Cuddyer (1.393, 12), Brendan Harris (1.315, 10), Jason Kubel (1.500, 7)

Nick Blackburn:  Sandwiched between three ultimately effective September starts were two pretty bad ones, and they've thrown off his numbers for the month.  It's been awhile since we've seen him at his best.  This year he sqaured off against the Sox five times, plenty by any measure.  Two met requirements for a Quality Start, but only once did he allow more than three earned runs; on June 6th he allowed seven runs on eight hits through four innings.  Tonight will be his fourth start of the season in Chicago, so at the very least he's not walking into this situation blind.

Strengths:  Control, good breaking ball, keeps the ball in the park
Weaknesses:  Familiar to opponent, experience, recent track record
Red Alert:  Jim Thome (.929 OPS, 12 AB), A.J. Pierzynski (1.145, 10), Joe Crede (1.200, 10), Nick Swisher (.944, 9), Carlos Quentin (1.067, 9), Juan Uribe (1.000, 9)

Positions:  Side-By-Side

White Sox Position Twins Comments
C X Joe Mauer is about to win his second batting title in two years.  Sorry, A.J., but you can't hold a candle, in any aspect of the game.  Except probably trash talking.
1B X Paul Konerko is good, but not as good as Justin Morneau.  For years I was envious of a big, powerful first baseman.  Not anymore.
X 2B This is a close one, because both Alexei Ramirez and Alexi Casilla have edges in different categories.  Ultimately Ramirez won due to his power and better ratings for range in the field, but in the long run I can see Casilla evening the score with high yearly OBP.
3B X If we were looking at Joe Crede instead of a bloated Juan Uribe, this wouldn't even be a conversation.  But whether you're looking at Brian Buscher or Brendan Harris, I'd happily take either of them over the all-or-nothing Uribe.
X SS X This is a split to me.  Because while Nick Punto is maddening in so many frustrating ways, he's not only having a better year at the plate for a shortstop than Orlando Cabrera, but if you pro-rate for innings at the position Cabrera isn't making that many more plays outside of his zone.  Also, Cabrera's been a real dick lately.  In the end this isn't a Twins advantage because Punto still doesn't have Cabrera's range.
X LF This is Nick Swisher over Delmon Young and Jason Kubel combined.  In spite of a pitiful batting average, Swisher can still reach base and hit the hell out of the ball.  If Carlos Quentin were available, this would be an across-the-board victory for Chicago, instead of a categorical victory.
X CF I know Ken Griffey Jr. is having a down year, perhaps because he's getting up there, but in spite of his diminishing range in the field he's still a better and more reliable player than Carlos Gomez.  Gomez could neutralize this disadvatage by taking a couple of hits away from the Sox in the gap or at the wall, but that's not something you can rely on.
X RF X This isn't as big of a blow-out as I thought it'd be; I was thinking there'd be no conversation here.  But Denard Span's OBP is 43 points higher than Jermaine Dye's, and he's markedly out-performing him in the field.  Dye's experience and power forced an ultimate tie to stave off what could have been an upset.
X DH Jason Kubel has had an excellent season, but he's still no match for the savvy and powerful Jim Thome.  Not yet, anyway.
Bench X The Twins have a reliable backup catcher who can hit, and Michael Cuddyer, and defensive versatility.  The Sox have no Joe Crede or Carlos Quentin which has depleted their depth, and Dewayne Wise as the only option with good offensive numbers this year.
X Bullpen In spite of a pen that's let them down recently, and game-saving performances from Jose Mijares or Craig Breslow, the White Sox are still edging the Twins here.  Bobby Jenks, Matt Thornton and Octavio Dotel make for a formidible threesome, and Joe Nathan is the only Twin I'd rank above any of them.  Sadly, this is not a comparison of closers.

One way or the other, tonight should hold in store one helluva game.  For the 19th time this season...Sox VS Twins.

One last thing, for a slightly more...enthused...reaction to last night, and expectations for today, don't forget to check out South Side Sox.  SSS is the best Sox site on the net, and it's got a rabid fan base.  Check it out.

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