Robin Ventura did what any manager would do - create an advantage based on favorable percentages and prepare for a worst-case scenario.
He'll know immediately if the front end of his rotation shuffle pays off as rookie Hector Santiago gets the ball for the Chicago White Sox in their series finale versus the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday night.
With the White Sox having dropped six of seven after Tuesday's 4-3 loss, followed by Detroit's win over Kansas City, the AL Central race has become an eight-game sprint with both teams sporting 82-72 records. It's the first time since Sept. 3 that Chicago has entered play without sole possession of the division lead.
"We knew it wasn't going to be easy," catcher A.J. Pierzynski said before the Tigers won 2-0. "(Detroit is) not going to go away. They'll keep playing hard."
Ventura, who has been understated in his first year following the frenetic tenure of predecessor Ozzie Guillen , opted to push back Jake Peavy one day to Thursday against Tampa Bay and keep Chris Sale in line for his scheduled Saturday start after originally thinking about starting him Sunday.
The decision to keep Sale - a 17-game winner - for Saturday makes him available to start a potential tiebreaker against Detroit's Justin Verlander on normal rest if the teams needed a 163rd game to settle the Central.
Right now, however, the immediate need is for Santiago (3-1, 3.45 ERA) to make his third start a deep one. Ventura has turned to the 24-year-old in hopes the Indians revert to their struggles against left-handers.
Cleveland is 16-35 with a .229 average against lefty starters - 21 points below its overall season average - but has gone 20 for 52 (.385) with two home runs and five doubles in this series.
In Tuesday's win, the Indians were 7 for 19 with a homer and double against left-handers, but Santiago is confident his out pitch - a screwball - can keep them at bay.
"It's good right now. I've been throwing it for the past two, three weeks when I had those two starts," he told MLB's official website. "Those two starts helped me get back into the fill of it. A.J. has been comfortable with it and called it three times in a row in an at-bat, so it's right where it was at in spring training."
Santiago has yielded two runs in seven innings while striking out eight over five relief outings versus Cleveland this year. He has not thrown more than 93 pitches in either of his two prior starts and surpassed 70 on only four occasions this season.
Cleveland (64-91), which has won back-to-back games only once this month, is hoping Justin Masterson (11-15, 4.97) can again find his comfort zone at U.S. Cellular Field and avoid losing a season-high fourth straight start.
The right-hander improved to 3-1 with a 2.09 ERA in six starts and eight lifetime appearances on the South Side after a win May 3, and he's 1-1 with a 4.15 ERA in three starts against the White Sox this year.
Masterson has a 6.23 ERA during his losing streak. He was reached for four runs and seven hits in six innings of a 6-3 defeat at Kansas City on Friday.
|Alejandro De Aza||10||.300||3||0||2||0||0||.300||.600||.300|
|September 19, 2012||Asdrubal Cabrera||Day-to-Day||Left game - sore right wrist|
|September 15, 2012||Jason Donald||Day-to-Day||Right forearm contusion|
|September 13, 2012||Michael Brantley||Day-to-Day||Sore left pectoral muscle|
|September 09, 2012||Asdrubal Cabrera||Day-to-Day||Left game - sore right wrist|
|August 27, 2012||Roberto Hernandez||Day-to-Day||Left game - sprained right ankle|
|August 13, 2012||Josh Tomlin||60-Day DL||Right elbow inflammation|
|Chicago White Sox|
|September 07, 2012||Adam Dunn||Day-to-Day||Strained right oblique|
|August 27, 2012||Gavin Floyd||15-Day DL||Right elbow flexor strain|
|August 27, 2012||Gavin Floyd||15-Day DL||Right elbow flexor strain|
|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|
CHICAGO (AP) -- For two months the Chicago White Sox had been ahead or tied for the lead in the AL Central. Now, with just a week left, they're looking up at the Detroit Tigers .
Their pitching was wild Wednesday night, issuing 12 walks in a 6-4 loss to the Cleveland Indians that knocked them into second place for the first time since July 23. Losers of seven of their last eight, the White Sox now have seven games left to regroup or a successful season will end in the ultimate disappointment with no playoffs.
Detroit, which beat Kansas City 5-4 Wednesday night, has a one-game lead.
"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," Chicago first baseman Paul Konerko said.
"It doesn't mean in two days it doesn't swing the other way ... It was tough out there tonight. We didn't deserve to win that game. This is the big leagues. You got to play all nine innings, you got to play well to beat a team."
The White Sox had a 3-1 lead after the first inning, but they couldn't hold off the Indians because their pitchers couldn't throw strikes. And for the second straight game, their starter didn't get out of the fourth inning.
"You can't win a game walking 12 guys. It seemed like every inning there were guys all over the bases," Chicago catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "We have to find a way to win games. We jump out to a lead and we have to shut them down. Tonight we weren't able to do that."
Shin-Soo Choo had a go-ahead RBI grounder in the seventh off Matt Thornton (4-9) and Vinny Rottino hit his first homer for Cleveland in the eighth off Brett Myers . The Indians - who are 21-50 since the All-Star break - won two of three at U.S. Cellular Field.
"We played a pretty good series, we had a lot of good at-bats today, for the third day in a row we're able to play well against a left-handed pitcher, which we had struggled the whole year," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "We put together a lot of good at-bats and ended up with 12 walks. That really helped us out."
Lou Marson drew his third walk of the game with one out in the seventh and after a double by Ezequiel Carrera , Choo hit an RBI grounder to first.
Alexei Ramirez 's two-out RBI double in the fifth put Chicago ahead 4-3.
But Choo doubled to open the sixth and then the Indians drew three straight walks - the final one on a 12-pitch at-bat by Carlos Santana against reliever Nate Jones - to force in the tying run. With the bases still loaded, Thornton got Travis Hafner to hit into a 1-2-3 double play.
Tony Sipp (1-2) pitched one-third of an inning for the win and Chris Perez finished in the ninth for his 38th save in 42 chances. He issued the Indians' sixth walk of the game and after a throwing error by shortstop Brent Lillibridge , he retired Konerko on a fly to shallow left to end it.
Chicago now plays four at home against another team still in the running for the postseason, the Tampa Bay Rays , and then finishes the season with three at Cleveland.
"Obviously, now you need help. Even if you win out, they can win out, and it doesn't work," Konerko said. "That's about it."
The Tigers finish a series with Kansas City at home on Thursday and then close the season with six road games against the Twins and the Royals.
Pierzynski, who played on Chicago's World Series-winning team with Konerko in 2005, said the White Sox's approach will be the same over the final week.
"There's no pressing. I don't think anything is going to change," he said. "I don't see guys coming in tomorrow nervous as they can be or trying too hard."
The White Sox scored three in the bottom of the first off Cleveland starter Justin Masterson , loading the bases on a walk and back-to-back singles by Kevin Youkilis and Adam Dunn . Paul Konerko drew a walk to force in a run, Alex Rios hit a sacrifice fly and A.J. Pierzynski had an RBI double for a 3-1 lead.
Masterson lasted 4 2-3 innings, giving up seven hits, four runs and four walks.
Chicago starter Hector Santiago was in trouble throughout, struggling with his control from the outset and making it through only 3 1-3 innings.
He gave up two walks and an RBI single to Russ Canzler in the first. And Cleveland got two in the fourth to tie it. After a single and two more walks loaded the bases, reliever Brian Omogrosso was greeted by Jason Kipnis ' two-run single.
NOTES: Rottino, who entered the game in the seventh, had two homers earlier this season while with the Mets. ... The Indians left 14 on base. ... Rios' sacrifice fly gave him 88 RBIs, tying the career high he set with the White Sox in 2010. ... Cleveland SS Asdrubal Cabrera left the game after batting in the top of the first because of a mid-back strain. Lillibridge took over at short. ... Indians CF Michael Brantley (sore groin) was out of the lineup for the third consecutive game. After Thursday's day off, manager Manny Acta said Brantley should be ready to play Friday. . INF Jason Donald (right hand) hit Wednesday during a simulated game and might be available for full duties on Friday.