- Will Harris, ESPN Contributor
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It's a 163-game season for the White Sox and Twins, as the division rivals duke it out Tuesday for the American League Central title. Chicago rode Gavin Floyd's arm and Alexei Ramirez's bat to an 8-2 victory over Freddy Garcia and the Tigers on Monday, forcing the tiebreaking one-game playoff with Minnesota. The Twins will send rookie right-hander Nick Blackburn to the mound at U.S. Cellular Field to face left-hander John Danks.
Matchup for Tuesday, Sept. 30
Time is ET.
Start 'em, sit 'em
Hitters: Only owners clinging to a very narrow lead in the batting average category stand to lose anything offensively in this matchup, so all Sox and Twins hitters are fair game. The White Sox have hit .319 off Blackburn this season, but Paul Konerko hasn't contributed. He's just 1-for-12 versus the Minnesota right-hander. Catcher A.J. Pierzynski is 5-for-10, but no Sox hitter has seen the Twins' rookie enough to have compiled a really significant sample. Toby Hall has caught John Danks more often than Pierzinski this month, although the latter was behind the plate in Danks' last outing. Danks, in his second full season, has a bit more history with the Twins than Blackburn does against the Sox. The two Minnesota hitters who have fared the best against Danks are already no-brainer starts. In their brief history against the Sox lefty, Justin Morneau is 7-for-16 with three home runs, and Joe Mauer is 8-for-12. Nick Punto, however, has just one hit in 11 tries against Danks.
Pitchers: Nick Blackburn gets the call in place of the injured Kevin Slowey, who took a line drive off his wrist Thursday. Blackburn beat the White Sox on Wednesday despite allowing ten base runners in five innings. The 26-year-old has made five starts against Chicago this year, posting a 5.67 ERA in those contests. Blackburn had a 6.75 ERA in five August starts and has a 5.74 ERA in his past nine starts, and he has struck out just 93 batters in 187 innings this year. He has never fanned more than six batters in a game, and has managed that number just once since his first start of the season. Blackburn's splits are as discouraging as his recent form. He's posted a 2.95 ERA in six daytime starts and a 2.96 ERA at home in the Metrodome, but his ERA of 5.20 on the road, 4.64 at night and 4.86 on grass do not bode well for him in Chicago on Tuesday. It's also a pressure-packed situation for a rookie. Blackburn started the season strong in April and May, but he has clearly faded down the stretch, and it's not hard to see why his ownership in ESPN leagues has dropped below 20 percent. Owners needing strikeouts in leagues in which Danks is owned have no choice, but those starting Blackburn are getting a league-average starter in poor current form. Chicago's John Danks, like Blackburn, is an 11-game winner. Also like Blackburn, he has struggled some down the stretch, posting an ERA of 4.44 in September and allowing seven earned runs versus the Indians in his last outing. Danks has just a 7.91 ERA in four starts against the Twins this year. He has shown solid overall skills this season but has battled control problems in the second half. Danks also has seen significant slippage in his groundball rate from the first half to the second, always a problem in homer-friendly U.S. Cellular. However, the 23-year-old has shown better command in September, and his ERA for the month actually hides some skills resurgence. Danks is pitching on short rest, though he lasted just four innings in his last start. He's not without risk, but owners who need a start shouldn't hesitate to put him in.
Hitters: Another Twins hitter who has gotten the best of Danks is the recently activated Michael Cuddyer. The outfielder's healing broken foot is still hindering his running, so he has made just two starts at designated hitter since being activated Sept. 13, seeing action mostly as a pinch hitter. Cuddyer is 7-for-12 with two doubles off Danks. Chicago outfielder/first baseman Nick Swisher is hitting just .154 in September and has been losing playing time since the return of Paul Konerko. Brian Anderson hasn't been much better at .222. Dewayne Wise started Monday's game in left field, with Ken Griffey Jr. in center. Wise, who is left-handed, has good speed and should be a target for those hoping to find a steal or two. He swiped his ninth base Monday, in just 125 at-bats. Wise didn't get a hit Monday, but two walks, the steal and a run scored might well earn him another start. Juan Uribe has been manning third base since Joe Crede's injury. He's hitting .295, with a .329 OBP and .449 slugging percentage this month and will be one of the few starters in this contest not already owned in most formats.
Pitchers: The Twins-Sox matchup is teeming with quality relievers apart from closers Bobby Jenks and Joe Nathan. Any one of several pitchers could deliver a win, a handful of strikeouts or even an extra-inning save. The best bets on the Chicago side are Octavio Dotel and Matt Thornton, both of whom have excellent skills and are in fine current form. The usually reliable Scott Linebrink has struggled of late, allowing nine earned runs in his past five outings. Minnesota's Matt Guerrier also has struggled recently, posting a double-digit ERA and a 2.00-plus WHIP in both August and September. Jesse Crain and Dennys Reyes are better bets.
It will be cloudy in Chicago on Tuesday, with temperatures in the mid-50s. Rain is not expected, although there is a slight possibility of a shower late in the evening.
Will Harris is a fantasy baseball and college football analyst for ESPN.com
5hBy Jackie MacMullan