It's do-or-die time for South Siders

Originally Published: September 17, 2006
ESPN.com

BASEBALL TONIGHT EXTRA

With the Tigers and White Sox both sputtering down the stretch, their series to open the week marks a pivotal point. The Sox desperately need a sweep at home since they trail Detroit by five games in the NL Central and Minnesota by four in the wild-card race. The Tigers need some wins, not only to hold off the Twins, but to give themselves a reason to feel good heading into the postseason (assuming they get there).

Remember, the White Sox barely survived the finish in 2005, but they righted themselves at the very end. Both teams can take something from that. Chicago knows it can play well when it absolutely must. The Tigers know that things are fixable if they start playing with a bit more urgency.

It would be a major step for Detroit to come into Chicago and pick up some much-needed victories because the doubters are lining up, as they have been all season.

TIGERS AT WHITE SOX: PITCHING PREVIEW
Monday: Kenny Rogers (15-6, 3.86) vs. Mark Buehrle (12-12, 4.76)
Think Kenny Rogers isn't a late-season pitcher? Think again. He's 4-0 with a 2.02 ERA in his last six starts, despite only 11 strikeouts in 40 innings. He's 15-8 in his career against the White Sox and is trying to beat them three times in a year for the first time (2-1, 1.00 ERA in 2006). Mark Buehrle is 11-6 with a 2.80 ERA career against Detroit, but in his two starts against the Tigers this season, his ERA is 5.56 and Detroit is hitting .340 against him. Buehrle has a career record of 17-9 in September, but with a 1-1 mark this month, he is in danger of having his first losing September.
Tuesday: Justin Verlander (16-8, 3.42) vs. Freddy Garcia (14-9, 4.82)
Justin Verlander is 2-4 with a 5.49 ERA in seven appearances since skipping a start in early August. He has a 6.97 ERA this season against the White Sox and a 2.95 ERA versus everybody else. Historically, Freddy Garcia has been fabulous in September and October, with a 21-8 mark in those two months. He's 14-5 in his career against the Tigers, including 3-0 in four starts against them this season, and is trying to match the four wins he had against them in 2004. Garcia, Jon Garland, Johan Santana and Jose Contreras are the only pitchers to beat the Tigers three times this year.
Wednesday: Jeremy Bonderman (12-8, 4.14) vs. Jon Garland (17-5, 4.30)
Jeremy Bonderman was 11-4 with a 3.66 ERA in his first 21 starts, but he is just 1-4 with a 5.25 ERA in his last 10 starts. Jon Garland can match his 2005 win total of 18 with a victory. In contrast to Bonderman, Garland is finishing super-strong, with a 13-2 mark and a 3.01 ERA in his last 18 outings. He's 6-1 with a 2.67 ERA against the Tigers since the start of the 2005 season.

INSIDE THE MATCHUP*
  Tigers White Sox
Wins 5 11
Runs 57 76
Batting average .258 .268
On-base percentage .299 .321
Home runs 16 26
*2006 season series

INSIDE THE NUMBERS
• The Tigers are 1-5 at U.S. Cellular Field this season. Brandon Inge and Ivan Rodriguez have each struggled, going 2-for-18 there.
• Jermaine Dye has made his best case for MVP with his performance against the Tigers this season, hitting .417 with 7 home runs and 13 RBI in 16 games.
• The Tigers are 30-31 since the All-Star break, but they have actually gained ground on the White Sox, who are just 27-34 since the break.

ARMED AND DANGEROUS

Which playoff teams/contenders have the best pitching rotations?

Any rotation with Johan Santana has to be in the discussion. Moby Dick was a minnow the last time Santana lost in the second half. He is 39-3 after the All-Star break since 2003. Derek Jeter will get my vote for MVP, but Santana also should be part of the conversation.

There are several teams right now that are getting their starting rotations in order for the playoffs. If you have the luxury, this is something teams will do now -- and not just wait until the last week of the season. The Mets and Yankees can start lining things up for October, and the Cardinals and A's have comfortable enough leads that they can start to get their rotations in order as well.

Lining up rotations now for the postseason allows pitchers to get extra days off between now and October. We saw Joe Torre do it Thursday with Chien-Ming Wang, and you can expect Wang to get a couple more extra days to line him up to start Game 1 of the ALDS. The Yankees' starting rotation is lined up for the postseason as well as I've ever seen.

One team most fans aren't talking about is San Diego. Other than Jake Peavy, how many fans can name the rest of the Padres' rotation? David Wells was traded to San Diego, but after that, most people would be hard-pressed to name the rest. Pitching coach Darren Balsley has done a terrific job with that staff, and manager Bruce Bochy has had to mix and match lineups like no other manager in the game. San Diego is in position to win the NL West again.

In the American League, don't forget about the White Sox. Their starting rotation isn't as dominant as it was a year ago, but the potential is still there.

Look at the teams that won the World Series the last three years, and they all had one thing in common: a starting rotation that stayed healthy and had depth. In 2003, Florida had Dontrelle Willis, Carl Pavano, Brad Penny, Josh Beckett and Mark Redman. In 2004, Boston had five starters with at least 10 wins each. And last year, the White Sox's starting rotation led the American League in innings pitched.

But don't forget, teams with good starters are going to have very good bullpens because their relievers aren't going to be overused heading into the playoffs.

ELIAS SAYS
• Carlos Zambrano capped a seven-run first inning with his fifth home run of the season in the Cubs' 11-3 win over the Reds. It was Zambrano's second first-inning homer of the year (the other was on July 2 against the White Sox), equaling the total for all other pitchers combined over the last 21 seasons. Since 1986, Tyler Greene (1995 Phillies) and Robert Person (2002 Phillies) are the only other pitchers to homer during the first inning of a game.

• Atlanta rallied for five runs in the bottom of the 10th inning to cap an unlikely 8-7 triumph against the Marlins. It was the first time in franchise history that the Braves had won a game in which they trailed by four or more runs during extra innings -- and keep in mind, the Braves have played in the National League since the year of its founding, 1876.

• The Tigers dropped a 12-8 decision to the Orioles in 10 innings on Sunday. It was the fourth time this season that Detroit lost an extra-inning game by a margin of at least four runs, matching the 2002 Royals for the most such losses in a single season for any team in major-league history.

• David Murphy hit the first home run of his career to lead off the first inning for the Red Sox in New York on Sunday afternoon. No player had led off a game at Yankee Stadium with his first major-league home run since Reggie Smith, also for Boston, on April 14, 1967 (off Whitey Ford). The Red Sox's 3-0 victory that day was memorable for a different reason -- Billy Rohr came within one out of throwing a no-hitter in his big-league debut.

More from Elias Says

DEEP THOUGHTS
Ryan Howard gets 57 as Phillies win.
NOTEWORTHY PERFORMANCES
GOOD
Scott Baker pitched six strong innings as the Twins beat the Indians 6-1 to move within one game of the Tigers in the AL Central. Baker (5-8) allowed one run on six hits and struck out three, finally putting together a good outing against Cleveland. The right-hander came in 0-3 with a 6.64 ERA in four career starts against the Tribe.
BAD
The Angels committed one error to increase their AL-leading total to 117 and lost to the Rangers 8-1. The loss dropped the Halos seven games behind the A's in the AL West with 12 to play (including seven of their final 10 vs. Oakland).
UGLY
Eric Milton left the Reds' 11-3 loss to the Cubs after recording just one out -- the shortest outing of his career. Milton gave up six runs on six hits and threw just 22 pitches. He left his last start with shoulder soreness and got a cortisone shot in his left elbow after his last start on Sept. 12. After the game, the left-hander said he's probably done for the year.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
After a 2-1 loss to the Padres, the Dodgers dropped out of first place in the NL West -- falling a half-game behind San Diego.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"Our worst loss of the year."
-- Marlins manager Joe Girardi after Florida's 8-7 loss to the Braves. The Marlins scored four times in the top of the 10th, but then gave up five to Atlanta in the bottom half to fall four back in the wild-card race.
NEWS AND NOTES
Placido Polanco • Just when the Tigers were hoping to have Placido Polanco back in the lineup, the second baseman said his season is over. "I'm out for the year," Polanco said after the Tigers lost to Baltimore 12-8 on Sunday. Polanco was put on the disabled list on Aug. 16 with a separated left shoulder after making a tumbling catch at Boston.

• Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee could be out for the rest of the season because of his 3-year-old daughter's illness. Lee had missed the last two games before he said Sunday he was taking a leave of absence to be with his wife and child. "My daughter's lost some vision in one eye and we'll find out more at a later time; we have to go through some more tests," Lee said in a statement. "Right now, we just ask for everyone's prayers. We need a miracle, we need your prayers. We need everyone to believe she's going to be OK."

• Bruce Sutter, inducted into the Hall of Fame this year, had his No. 42 jersey retired Sunday by the Cardinals. It's the ninth jersey retired by the team, joining Ozzie Smith, Red Schoendienst, Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, Ken Boyer, Dizzy Dean, Lou Brock and Bob Gibson on a wall of fame in left field at new Busch Stadium. Major League Baseball already has retired No. 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson, and both names are listed under that number.

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS
Tough to evaluate young talent in September.
RUMOR CENTRAL
No Apple picking?
Barry Zito When Barry Zito strikes it rich on the free-agent market next season, it reportedly won't be in New York. Multiple officials from the Yankees and Mets told the New York Post that both clubs have no interest in signing the lefty ace this offseason.

More from Rumor Central Insider

FORWARD THINKING: MONDAY
Josh JohnsonMarlins at Mets, 7:10 p.m. ET: The Marlins look to keep their slim playoff hopes alive as New York tries (again) to clinch its first division title since 1988. Josh Johnson (12-7, 3.10) ranks fourth in the NL but has faltered in his last three starts, going 0-1 with a 5.17 ERA. Dave Williams (5-4, 6.62) is 3-1 with a 5.79 ERA in five starts since being acquired from Cincinnati.

Indians at A's, 10:05 p.m. ET: Cleveland can play spoiler, but Oakland is in great shape to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Jake Westbrook (12-10, 4.27) is 6-6 with a 5.55 ERA on the road. Kirk Saarloos (7-7, 4.70) has pitched well in the second half. He is 4-2 with a 3.61 ERA since the All-Star break.

Brad PennyPadres at Dodgers, 10:10 p.m. ET: First place in the NL West is on the line in this series finale. Jake Peavy (9-14, 4.17) has been missing a lot of bats lately. He ranks eighth in the NL in BAA (.239) and has allowed only four earned runs in his last three starts. Despite leading the NL in wins, Brad Penny (16-8, 4.04) is a longshot to win the Cy Young, but he could bolster his case with another strong outing.

Monday's probable starters