Home field would be even bigger in playoffs

July, 29, 2010
7/29/10
11:42
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Now that the White Sox have been atop the American League Central for a while, they might want to try taking aim at a leader of a different kind.

As the hottest home team in baseball, the White Sox might be able to do some serious damage in the playoffs if they can somehow land the top record in the American League and have home-field advantage leading into the World Series.

Paul Konerko, who has hit home runs in four consecutive games -- all at home -- doesn’t want to touch that one with a 10-foot Louisville Slugger, especially since the calendar still reads July. But there is no denying what the White Sox have done at home by winning 11 consecutive and 18 of their last 19, the latest a 9-5 triumph over the Mariners on Thursday to complete a four-game sweep.

It doesn’t help, though, that both of the other division leaders -- the Yankees and the Rangers -- as well as two teams in the wild-card hunt -- the Rays and Red Sox -- all have better records than the White Sox. The Yankees, with the AL’s best record, are eight games in front of the White Sox.

[+] EnlargePaul Konerko
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastPaul Konerko, celebrating with Alexei Ramirez, has homered in four straight games for the White Sox.
“I don’t think any team right now, with the exception of the Yankees, is thinking about home-field advantage,” said Konerko, who hit a home run in all seven home games against the Mariners. “We have a ton of games here and we are by no means out of the woods in our own division so to start thinking about who is going to play where in the playoffs, and pitching rotations and all that is a little bit of the cart before the horse.”

So when is it time to think about things like that? Konerko didn’t want to talk about that either. There is no doubt, though, that other teams in the league are starting to take notice of the White Sox and their winning ways, especially in Chicago, since the start of June.

The road is where the White Sox do things like hit one home run in a four-game stretch last week at Seattle and Oakland. Home is where they do things like hit 11 home runs in a four-game series against the Mariners, two of which Thursday came from backup catcher Ramon Castro.

The White Sox swept their third consecutive home series, posted their first four-game home sweep of the Mariners since 1983 and saw Freddy Garcia improve to 5-1 with a 3.91 ERA in his last eight starts at U.S. Cellular Field.

Starting tonight with the Oakland A’s, though, the home schedule only gets harder. The A’s enter having won five of their last seven games and 10 of their last 13. On the following homestand, it’s a pair of series against the Twins and Tigers. The Yankees come to town at the end of August for three games.

If the White Sox can take care of those three against New York, then it’s a matter of picking up five more games against the World Series champs over the final two months. Plus leapfrogging everybody else and holding off the pesky Twins, who are now 1 games back in the division.

Thursday’s most recent power display seems to suggest the White Sox don’t need to add a piece on offense before Saturday’s non-waiver trade deadline. But they aren’t going to be able to face the Mariners anymore either.

“We can make a lot of things happen,” manager Ozzie Guillen said of the offense. “I remember a lot of people worry about the home runs. We got people in the lineup who can hit home runs without hitting 70. We’ve experienced [high home-run totals] for a few years. [But] we strike out a lot, we got guys on base, we can’t get them in.

“Now, now we play a different ballgame. I think the guys are running the bases well. We take advantage with stolen bases here and there and we’ve been winning because we push the guys to run the bases and be aggressive there.”

But they have also been winning with the pitching. White Sox starters are 26-9 with a 2.73 ERA and 36 quality starts in their last 45 games. It hardly mattered that reliever J.J. Putz was scored upon for the first time in 27 appearances (27 innings). The White Sox won at home again and everything felt just fine.

“I think we come in believing we can win that game that night no matter who we’re playing, who we’re facing,” Konerko said. “We just got in a good groove a while back of just coming in and playing nine innings as hard as we can. Regardless of the result we come back and fight the next day. I thought we did that earlier as well, but we were probably carrying some baggage into each game because we were losing so much.”

BY THE NUMBERS

3: Left-handed starters the White Sox will face this weekend against the A’s in Brett Anderson, Dallas Braden and Gio Gonzalez. The White Sox are 13-11 when facing a left-handed starter this season, compared to 44-33 when facing a right-handed starter. Castro, who hit two home runs, could play in at least two of the games for the left-handed hitting A.J. Pierzynski.

QUOTE

“I think when you see me hit balls down the right-field line and then hit balls down the left-field line in the same game I think that's good. I think that means my swing is taking whatever pitch is there out. I'm not even trying to do that. That's the swing playing what I have, and when I'm doing that I'm in a good place. It's good to see, it's good to feel and it's good to win.” -- Gordon Beckham, who had two hits, one to right field and one to left and is now batting .417 (25-for-60) over his last 18 games with nine doubles, three home runs and 11 RBIs.

LOOK AHEAD

Right-hander Daniel Hudson (1-1, 6.32 ERA) will get his fourth start of the season when he faces the Oakland A’s in the opener of a three-game series Friday. While facing the A’s in his last outing Sunday at Oakland, Hudson gave up five runs on six hits in five innings. He walked four batters for the second consecutive outing. In his only home start this season on July 11, he gave up five runs on six hits in four innings and got a no-decision despite being given a big early lead.

Hudson will be opposed by Oakland left-hander Brett Anderson (2-1, 2.35), who is coming off the disabled list for the second time, both because of a sore left elbow. In 23 starts since June 29, 2009, Anderson is 10-5 with a 2.82 ERA.

Doug Padilla

Chicago White Sox beat reporter
Doug joined ESPN Chicago in July 2010 and covers the Chicago White Sox for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN Radio 1000.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Chris Sale
WINS ERA SO IP
9 2.03 110 102
OTHER LEADERS
BAJ. Abreu .292
HRJ. Abreu 29
RBIJ. Abreu 74
RJ. Abreu 51
OPSJ. Abreu .961
ERAC. Sale 2.03
SOJ. Quintana 115