The Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers are both emphasizing that this weekend's series will not decide the AL Central.
However, after taking the opener of the three-game set and with Max Scherzer taking the mound Saturday, the host Tigers have to be feeling good about where the momentum could be swinging.
They might like their chances even more after learning shortly before the game that Adam Dunn , the major league leader with 38 homers, won't be in the White Sox lineup due to a strained oblique. Manager Robin Ventura said he's sitting Dunn as a precaution but may use him as a pinch hitter.
Detroit moved within two games of first-place Chicago following a 7-4 win Friday. Delmon Young hit a tiebreaking, three-run double in the seventh inning for the Tigers, while the White Sox (72-59) went 0 for 13 with runners in scoring position.
"We still have a ways to go, but obviously this is an important series without question," manager Jim Leyland said. "Is it the end of the world one way or the other? No."
Detroit (70-61), which had totaled one run in the final two losses of a three-game sweep at Kansas City this week, finished with 11 hits Friday - six for extra bases. Miguel Cabrera went 3 for 4 with a two-run homer.
Cabrera is batting .447 with four homers in the last nine games of the season series - seven of them victories for Detroit, which has won 16 of its last 19 home games versus the White Sox.
The Tigers now will give the ball to Scherzer (14-6, 4.13 ERA), who looks to win his fifth straight start.
The hard-throwing right-hander, who is also 6-1 with a 2.75 ERA over his last eight outings, allowed one run and four hits over seven innings of Sunday's 5-3 victory over the Los Angeles Angels . He struck out nine, becoming the first Tigers pitcher since at least 1918 to have at least eight strikeouts in eight straight starts.
He's also the franchise's first pitcher with nine strikeouts or more in 11 starts in a season since Mickey Lolich had 15 in 1971."Scherzer has a tremendous arm, no question about it," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's got some deception with that delivery."
Scherzer is 2-1 with a 1.83 ERA in six career home starts against the White Sox, but 0-1 with a 4.76 ERA in three overall outings against them this year - two of which Detroit has lost.
The White Sox have dropped four of five on their road trip, but it's not yet time to panic."We've still got a two-game lead, they've still got to catch us," third baseman Kevin Youkilis said. "The key right now is that we don't want to start pressing."
Paul Konerko , who drove in two runs Friday despite finishing 0 for 4, is 2 for 19 on the road trip. However, he is 4 for 8 against Scherzer this year with two homers.
Francisco Liriano (5-10, 5.06) will try to give Chicago some more breathing room in the division, but he had some control issues in a 4-3 loss to Baltimore on Monday, allowing two runs, six hits and four walks in five-plus innings though he didn't get the decision.
Liriano is 5-6 with a 4.92 ERA in 15 starts against Detroit. He's faced the Tigers twice as a reliever this year, most recently allowing four runs and five hits over 2 2-3 innings May 25.
Cabrera is 8 for 24 with two homers and three doubles off Liriano.
|Alejandro De Aza||8||.125||1||1||2||1||4||.222||.722||.500|
|Chicago White Sox|
|August 27, 2012||Gavin Floyd||15-Day DL||Right elbow flexor strain|
|August 26, 2012||Gavin Floyd||Day-to-Day||Right elbow discomfort|
|August 25, 2012||Dayan Viciedo||Day-to-Day||Right shoulder soreness|
|August 19, 2012||Kevin Youkilis||Day-to-Day||Sore right knee|
|August 18, 2012||Alejandro De Aza||15-Day DL||Bruised left ribcage|
|August 16, 2012||Orlando Hudson||15-Day DL||Left foot contusion|
|August 23, 2012||Doug Fister||Day-to-Day||Tightness in right groin|
|August 23, 2012||Miguel Cabrera||Day-to-Day||Left game - Right ankle soreness|
|August 01, 2012||Ryan Raburn||15-Day DL||Sprained right thumb|
|July 07, 2012||Drew Smyly||15-Day DL||Right intercostal strain|
|July 07, 2012||Drew Smyly||15-Day DL||Right intercostal strain|
|July 02, 2012||Max Scherzer||Day-to-Day||Left hamstring soreness|
DETROIT (AP) -- Max Scherzer has done more than just salvage his season.
He's helped the Detroit Tigers stay right behind the Chicago White Sox atop the AL Central.
Scherzer allowed four hits in eight scoreless innings, and the Tigers pulled within a game of first place with a 5-1 victory over the White Sox on Saturday night. After an awful start to 2012 - his ERA was 6.26 on May 15 - Scherzer has bounced back impressively. He's now won five straight starts, providing a dependable complement to ace Justin Verlander .
"I knew coming in tonight this was a huge start for us," Scherzer said. "We needed to win this game to get us back in the thick of things."
Detroit has taken the first two games of this series from the AL Central-leading White Sox and will send Verlander to the mound Sunday night to try for a sweep. Scherzer (15-6) struck out nine with one walk.
Delmon Young homered and tripled for the Tigers.
Francisco Liriano (5-11) allowed three runs, four hits and seven walks in four-plus innings. Chicago was swept in a three-game set in Detroit in July, momentarily ceding first place to the Tigers. Now the White Sox are in danger of being caught atop the division.
"There's a long way to go. You're still where you want to be," Chicago manager Robin Ventura said. "No use hanging your head. Still a lot worse places you could be."
Scherzer increased his strikeout total to 204, becoming the first pitcher to reach 200 this year. He and Liriano are two of the three pitchers who have struck out at least 15 in a game this season. The other is Chris Sale , Chicago's starter Sunday.
Scherzer has struck out at least eight in nine straight starts.
"He threw as good a performance as we've had thrown against us, just stuff-wise," Ventura said. "Looked like he was in and out and spotting his pitches."
Detroit opened the scoring with two runs in the third. Brennan Boesch , who has struggled this year but entered the game 5 for 11 lifetime against Liriano, hit an RBI triple and came home on Miguel Cabrera 's single.
Young led off the Detroit fifth with a drive that hit the top of the wall in left-center and came back in play for a triple. He eventually scored on a two-out single by Avisail Garcia , the first big league hit for the right fielder.
Young's next hit - in the seventh - had enough distance to clear the fence for his 16th homer of the year. Cabrera added another RBI single in the eighth.
The Tigers have won 24 of their last 30 home games.
"We know we need to win games," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "I usually don't emphasize series. I did say this is a bigger series."
The White Sox were without slugger Adam Dunn , who was sitting out with a strained oblique.
Scherzer struck out Kevin Youkilis in the eighth for his final out, then took off his hat to acknowledge the crowd before getting a handshake from manager Jim Leyland.
"When our offense is scoring runs, they're making their starter work, we're getting hits - big hits - it makes it fun to go out there and pitch well," Scherzer said. "Any time the team wins, in this situation, with where we're at with the season, it just puts a smile on my face."
Orlando Hudson hit an RBI triple off Detroit's Jose Valverde in the ninth.
NOTES: Chicago used eight pitchers. ... Scherzer lowered his ERA to 3.93. ... The White Sox entered September with a division lead for the fifth time since 1993. They ended up finishing first the other four times - in 1993, 2000, 2005 and 2008. ... Chicago RHP Deunte Heath made his major league debut in the eighth, getting Prince Fielder to hit into a double play. ... Ventura said LHP Hector Santiago will start Monday night against Minnesota.