Commentary

Regular season not quite over yet for White Sox, Tigers

Originally Published: September 28, 2008
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

The Season That Wouldn't End just keeps on chugging -- finish line or no finish line, final day of the schedule or no final day.

Four teams went down to what they thought was the last day of that schedule Sunday, their playoff fates hanging in the September air.

Somehow, it seems only fitting that by the time the day was through, two of those teams still hadn't determined their fate.

We'll get to the Brewers and Mets later in Pennant Pulse. But first, here's everything you need to know about the White Sox, the Twins and an AL Central race that wasn't even over when it was over:

• Remember when we thought that Hurricane Ike was going to wreak havoc on the Cubs' day-after-the-regular-season plans? Turns out we were worried about the wrong Chicago team. It was the "remnants" of Ike, as Al Roker likes to say, that caused the washout of a Tigers-White Sox game two weeks ago. Now, that game has turned into the Biggest Game of the Year for the White Sox -- because it will be made up Monday in Chicago (2 p.m. ET, ESPN2 and ESPN360.com).

Gavin Floyd

Floyd

Freddy Garcia

Garcia

• How's this for a bizarre plotline for that game? The two starting pitchers -- Gavin Floyd (White Sox) and ex-White Sox star Freddy Garcia (Tigers) -- were traded FOR EACH OTHER a mere 21 months ago. Garcia has won two games since then -- one for the 2007 Phillies, one for Detroit this month. Floyd has won 17 times since then -- 16 of them for these White Sox.

• One more goofy plot twist: Garcia is married to Ozzie Guillen's second cousin. So if Garcia beats his old team, we don't like his chances of being invited to the Guillen family Christmas party.

• Aw, let's throw in one more: It was just nine weeks ago when Guillen was asked if he thought Garcia would pitch at all this year. His answer: "I doubt it." Whoops.

[+] EnlargeOzzie Guillen & Freddy Garcia
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhOzzie Guillen and Freddy Garcia used to be on the same side with the White Sox -- and are currently part of the same extended family -- but now they will be on opposite sides of the field Monday in a game that could decide Chicago's postseason fate.
• Because the White Sox have been going with just four starting pitchers for most of the past two weeks, Floyd will be pitching on three days' rest for the second time in a week and a half. He allowed five runs in 6 1/3 innings in his other start on short rest, Sept. 20 in Kansas City. On regular rest, he's 6-1 since July 30, including two wins over the Red Sox and one each over the Twins and Yankees.

• So how long has it been since any team found itself in a mess like this -- having to make up a weathered-out game AFTER the conclusion of the schedule to keep its playoff hopes alive? How about 27 years ago, when the Royals and Indians had to do it, on Oct. 5, 1981. But those were even more bizarre circumstances -- because the season had started over in August after a two-month players' strike. So the Royals had to win one of two scheduled makeup games that day to clinch the "second-half championship," even though they'd been in fifth place, 10 games under .500 (20-30) when the strike hit. The irony is that the Royals had 59 other games wiped out because of the strike and didn't have to make up any of them. But they beat the Indians 9-0 -- in a game Cleveland wasn't very motivated to play -- and advanced to the first-ever division series.

• Disregarding those goofy circumstances, the last true parallel to the current situation took place 35 years ago. The Mets, Pirates and Cardinals all reached the end of the 1973 schedule with a shot at first place in the NL East. The Mets -- who were 1 games up on the Pirates and a game up on St. Louis -- had just had three straight games rained out in Chicago on the final weekend but had only managed to make up one. Meanwhile, the Pirates still had to make up a rained out game from April against San Diego. So, it was the Pirates who were in roughly the same situation as the White Sox are this year. Pittsburgh needed to win its game at home, and hope the Mets got swept in an emergency makeup doubleheader in Chicago. But the Pirates lost to San Diego 4-3 while the Mets were winning Game 1. And that was that.

• The White Sox had lost five straight games heading into Sunday. And that sounds ominous. But you'd be surprised how many playoff teams have recovered from five-game losing streaks in the final week and played great in October. The White Sox could be the eighth team in the division-play era to careen through at least a five-game losing streak in its final seven games and still make the playoffs, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Five of the previous seven reached the World Series. Two of them (2000 Yankees, 1987 Twins) won the World Series. Now the bad news: Two of the past three teams to do it -- the 2000 White Sox and 2001 Astros -- got swept in the first round.

• Is it possible that the entire season in the AL Central might have come down to a stiff neck? Indians ace Cliff Lee couldn't pitch against the White Sox on Sunday because of that stiff neck. So instead of facing a pitcher who was 22-3 -- and had a 0.53 ERA against them this year (17 innings pitched, one run) -- the White Sox matched up with Bryan Bullington, who is 0-5 in nine career big league outings and had a 5.20 ERA in Triple-A this year. Worked out OK for them, wouldn't you say?

• The White Sox now need to win Monday to force a one-game playoff Tuesday against the Twins, also in Chicago. After Sunday's win at home, Guillen said, "I'll take my chances. We're playing here." Sounds good, since the White Sox are 7-2 against the Twins in Chicago this year (versus 1-8 in the Metrodome). But Ozzie probably doesn't want to know that in the seven previous one-game playoffs in baseball history, the road team has won five times -- including the past two (Rockies over Padres last year, Mets over Reds in 1999).

• If that Tuesday game is played, by the way, the likely matchup appears to be Nick Blackburn for the Twins against John Danks for the White Sox. Danks would be pitching on short rest for the first time in his career. Blackburn's most recent start was Wednesday, so he would be working on an extra day of rest.

• There have been seven one-game tiebreakers and two best-of-three tiebreakers in baseball history. The Yankees won two of them and won the World Series both times (1978, 1951). Only one of the other seven teams to survive those tiebreakers went on to win the World Series -- the 1948 Indians.

Oh Say Can You CC

Just when you thought the legend of CC Sabathia couldn't possibly grow any larger, he finds another layer of the stratosphere to ascend to.

[+] EnlargeCC Sabathia & Mark Attanasio
AP Photo/Morry GashThe Brewers are getting their money's worth. CC Sabathia says he can be ready to throw on three days' rest for a fourth consecutive start when the playoffs start up.
A 122-pitch, four-hit complete game on short rest to seal the Brewers' playoff spot on the final day of the regular season? Whoa. Get Steven Spielberg on the phone. Here are a few nuggets about CC and the Brewers to chomp on:

• He's only the sixth pitcher in the past 10 seasons to make at least three starts in a row on short rest. The others, according to Elias: Esteban Loaiza in 2003, Danny Graves in 2003, Bobby Jones in 1999, Pedro Astacio in 1999 and Darryl Kile in 1999.

• And CC isn't done. Asked Sunday if he could come back for a FOURTH straight start on three days' rest on Thursday, in Game 2 of the NLDS in Philadelphia, he replied: "No doubt." So in case you're wondering -- and who wouldn't be? -- the last pitcher to make four starts in a row on short rest was Graves, for Jack McKeon's 2003 Reds.

• That lack of rest is really bothering this man, too, isn't it? Sabathia's ERA over those three starts is 0.83. "What he's done is, he's gone to his changeup more [in these starts]," said one scout. "And he's been really effective with it from both sides of the plate."

• Since Aug. 31, the Brewers are 5-2 when Sabathia starts -- and 6-14 when anybody else starts.

MORE PENNANT PULSATIONS

Memo to the Brewers, Twins and White Sox: Milwaukee became the 15th team in the wild-card era to be forced to go down to the final day of the season to clinch a playoff spot, and either the Twins or White Sox will become the 16th. So is that a disadvantage? The jury is out. The 14 previous teams that qualified on the final day then played a combined 24 postseason series -- and went 11-13 in those series. Seven lost in the first round. Four got bounced in the LCS. Two lost in the World Series (2007 Rockies and 2005 Astros). And only one of them won the World Series -- the 2006 Cardinals.

• A couple of the Mets' claims to infamy: They're the first team in history to blow leads of 3½ games or more with 17 games to play in back-to-back seasons. And Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci reported during the TBS telecast that the Mets are also the first team to get eliminated on their home field on the last day of the season two years in a row. Ouch.

• A moment of silence for the Mets bullpen. Over those final 17 games, that 'pen had a 6.56 ERA and allowed eight homers in 46 2/3 innings -- including those deadly back-to-backers Sunday to Wes Helms and Dan Uggla. Not counting Johan Santana's complete game Saturday, manager Jerry Manuel used an average of 4.4 relievers per game during that stretch and used six or more relievers in seven of 16 games.

• In their final 15 games, the Mets went 3-0 in Santana's starts -- and 3-9 when anybody else started.

• The last time, before Sunday, that the Twins threw a shutout in their final game of the season: 1992, also against the Royals, in a game started by Mike Trombley and finished by Rick Aguilera. But this note might not last long: If the White Sox win Monday, Scott Baker's gem WON'T be the Twins' final game of this season anymore.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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