The AL Central-leading Chicago White Sox wasted a brilliant pitching performance from Chris Sale in his last start, unable to muster any offense against a former Cy Young Award winner.
It would seem the budding star could be poised for another gem in going up against a light-hitting Minnesota Twins team, and facing the struggling Nick Blackburn in Wednesday's finale also seems to bode well for the White Sox lineup.
In his first season in Chicago's rotation, Sale (8-2, 2.24 ERA) is already being mentioned as a possible starter for the AL All-Star team. He leads the league in ERA, and he has yielded two runs or fewer in six of his last seven starts.
The left-hander and Milwaukee's Zack Greinke were matched in a pitchers' duel Friday at U.S. Cellular Field, in a game the White Sox (39-35) lost 1-0 in 10 innings. Pitching on six days' rest, Sale went eight, allowing four hits and a walk while striking out seven, leaving a good impression on Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke .
"I see why his record and his ERA are where they are," Roenicke said. "He's really funky along with great stuff."
The Twins (30-43) are already aware of how overpowering Sale can be after he limited them to two hits - singles by Joe Mauer and Trevor Plouffe - while striking out six in seven innings of Chicago's 6-0 win on May 23.
It could be a similar story this time, considering Minnesota is 13th in the AL in runs with 295, and has scored two or fewer in five of the last eight games. Mauer is batting .438 in five games after missing three with a bruised right quadriceps but has driven in just one run, while Plouffe has one homer in his last 10 contests.
The Twins were on the verge of being shut out for the second time in four games Tuesday until Jamey Carroll 's two-run single with two outs in the ninth inning. It wasn't enough, however, as the White Sox hung on for a 3-2 victory, their third in four games to increase their division lead over Cleveland to 1 1/2.
Chicago finished with five hits, with Alex Rios going 2 for 4 with a two-run homer and Alexei Ramirez adding a triple and RBI single. Ramirez is batting .471 with seven RBIs in his last 10 games, raising his average 31 points to .246, and is hitting .333 in 36 career at-bats against Blackburn (4-4, 7.45).
The White Sox haven't enjoyed much success against Blackburn, who is 7-2 with a 3.43 ERA in his last 10 starts in the series, but the right-hander hasn't been particularly sharp this season.
This is especially the case early. He has allowed at least one first-inning run in eight of his 11 starts, and opponents are batting .426 off him in the opening frame.
Although Blackburn has posted a 6.00 ERA in four starts since coming off the disabled list (left quad strain), the Twins have won each of those games. In Cincinnati on Friday, he allowed four runs on a pair of two-run homers and three other hits over five innings of a 5-4 victory.
Kevin Youkilis , 2 for 8 in his first two games with the White Sox, is batting .353 in 17 career at-bats against Blackburn.
|Alejandro De Aza||3||.333||1||0||0||0||0||.333||.666||.333|
|Chicago White Sox|
|June 17, 2012||Philip Humber||15-Day DL||Right elbow flexor strain|
|June 13, 2012||Adam Dunn||Day-to-Day||Sprained ankle|
|June 04, 2012||Kosuke Fukudome||15-Day DL||Strained right oblique|
|June 04, 2012||Kosuke Fukudome||15-Day DL||Strained right oblique|
|May 30, 2012||Alejandro De Aza||Day-to-Day||Left game - bruised right knee|
|May 20, 2012||John Danks||15-Day DL||Sore left shoulder|
|June 24, 2012||Matt Capps||15-Day DL||Right shoulder inflammation|
|June 17, 2012||Matt Capps||Day-to-Day||Sore right shoulder|
|June 17, 2012||Joe Mauer||Day-to-Day||Left game - bruised right quadricep|
|June 16, 2012||Joe Mauer||Day-to-Day||Sore left hamstring|
|June 15, 2012||Justin Morneau||Day-to-Day||Left forearm injury|
|June 14, 2012||P.J. Walters||15-Day DL||Right shoulder inflammation|
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Chris Sale produced his usual strong pitching performance to help the Chicago White Sox win their fifth straight series against the Minnesota Twins .
There were bonuses for the White Sox on this steamy afternoon, too. Sale didn't have to work very hard, never facing more than four batters in any inning, and the lagging lineup snapped to life with a season-high 21 hits.
Sale's seven smooth innings were supported by Adam Dunn 's three-run homer, and the White Sox beat the Twins 12-5 Wednesday.
"Any time you go out there and get that kind of run support it kind of calms you down a little bit," said Sale, the American League's earned run average leader.
The White Sox matched their season high with a 2 1/2 game lead in the AL Central, ahead of Cleveland.
Sale (9-2) struck out five and walked one with six hits and two runs allowed. The Twins talked before the game about trying to disrupt his rhythm and make him sweat on a day when the temperature moved toward the 90s, but they were unsuccessful.
"It's hard to keep saying the same things over and over again, but he's just a mature kid," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said.
Dunn had three hits and four RBIs, including his 24th home run of the season, and recently-acquired Kevin Youkilis went 3 for 4 and drove in two runs. Alex Rios also had three hits and a homer.
"He's going to help us in so many ways," Rios said of Youkilis, who fouled off three pitches before his single right before Dunn went deep.
The third, fourth and fifth hitters were 10 for 15 with eight RBIs, mostly against Twins starter Nick Blackburn (4-5). The right-hander watched his ERA balloon to 7.74 after five rough innings for the Twins, giving up nine hits and six runs.
"We haven't been swinging the bats well the last couple weeks so hopefully today it gets everybody's confidence back up and we start rolling again," Dunn said.
Ventura gave regulars Paul Konerko , Gordon Beckham and Dayan Viciedo a rest, but an offense that managed only 13 runs over the previous five games finally had a breakout game. Dunn ended a 0-for-24 skid with his homer, and the White Sox posted a double-digit score for the first time in 16 games. Sale pitched that one, too, June 9 against Houston.
"He goes straight to what he has to do, and does it with power. He's unbelievable," Rios said.
Twins first baseman Justin Morneau , now 7 for 73 against left-handers this season with 22 strikeouts, talked his way into the lineup by telling manager Ron Gardenhire before the game he wanted "a piece of this kid," but a seventh-inning single was the only dent he put on yet another stellar performance by the lanky left-hander Sale with the whipsaw, sidearm delivery.
"He's got some funk to it, and his breaking ball, for it to be a strike it pretty much has to start behind you," Morneau said. "I think he's got a pretty good feel for that also. When he needs to get a strike with it, he can. When he's ahead in the count and he feels like he needs you to chase, he's also good at that one."
Brian Dozier homered and Ben Revere tacked on a sacrifice fly, but that was the only damage done against the 23-year-old 2010 first-round draft pick. In seven starts on the road this season, Sale is 5-0 with a 2.91 ERA and 54 strikeouts in 46 1-3 innings. Those sure look like All-Star statistics. The teams are revealed Sunday.
"It's something that you think about, but you try not to pay attention to it. My focus is on this team and what I'm doing here. I'm just trying to keep the same approach I've had all year," Sale said.
NOTES: Damon Mastroianni hit his first career home run, a two-run shot against Will Ohman in the eighth, for the Twins. Ohman was designated for assignment after the game. He hit two batters in the ninth and gave up another run. ... The Twins have lost eight of their last 10 games against the White Sox at home. ... The White Sox start a four-game series in New York on Thursday, with RHP Dylan Axelrod (0-1, 5.54 ERA) making his third start this season against Yankees RHP Ivan Nova (9-2, 4.25). ... The Twins are off on Thursday before four games in three days here against Kansas City. LHP Brian Duensing (1-3, 3.82) pitches on Friday, with RHP Luis Mendoza (2-4, 4.95) taking the mound for the Royals.