(AP) – Before the season started, the Chicago White Sox and the Minnesota Twins were expected to battle for the AL Central title, but now they’re battling to stay out of the last place in the division.
The struggling rivals open their season series with a two-game set in Chicago beginning Tuesday night.
Despite high expectations for both clubs, Minnesota (9-18) and Chicago (11-19) begin this short series with the White Sox a half-game up on the last-place Twins.
Not everyone thinks the standings will remain that way.
“This is going to be a five-team race,” White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen told the team’s official website. “I don’t expect Minnesota, the White Sox and Detroit to (stay) where they are. I expect Cleveland and Kansas City to stay where they are. … I think it’s going to be a pretty good pennant race.”
Guillen’s team snapped a five-game losing streak with a 6-2 win over Baltimore on Monday. Paul Konerko homered twice and drove in four runs as Chicago won for just the fourth time in 19 games.
The White Sox averaged 2.4 runs and hit .206 in their previous 18.
“Hopefully this win can get the vibe a little bit better in here,” Konerko said.
Minnesota has dropped six in a row, getting swept by Tampa Bay and Kansas City. The Twins have been outscored 54-14 during the losing streak while hitting .179.
“We keep believing it’s going to turn around,” Justin Morneau said after a 10-3 loss to the Royals on Sunday. “We’re going to have to make our own luck. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves.”
Minnesota hasn’t lost seven in a row since an eight-game skid July 5-13, 2003.
Ending the losing streak won’t be easy if Francisco Liriano (1-4, 9.13 ERA) continues to struggle on the mound. After going 14-10 with a 3.62 ERA last season, Liriano may be in danger of losing his rotation spot to Kevin Slowey.
Liriano has one quality start in five outings this season, and hasn’t made it through the fifth inning in two starts. He gave up seven runs and walked four in three-plus innings of an 8-2 loss to Tampa Bay on Wednesday.
“I don’t want to make excuses. I just had a bad night,” Liriano said. “Too many walks and trying to go deeper in games, that’s just not working for me right now.”
The left-hander is 3-3 with a 5.51 ERA against the White Sox, but hasn’t lost to them in his last five starts, going 3-0 with a 4.15 ERA.
Edwin Jackson (2-3, 5.86), who is scheduled to take the mound for Chicago, is also struggling with his control. He has a 12.10 ERA and nine walks in his last two starts.
Jackson gave up six runs and walked five in four-plus innings of a 12-3 loss to the New York Yankees on Thursday, his third straight defeat.
Facing the Twins may not help. The right-hander is 1-3 with a 7.76 ERA in five starts and three relief appearances against Minnesota.
Jim Thome, who was held out of the Twins lineup Sunday with overall stiffness, is 8 for 13 with two homers against Jackson. Morneau, who homered Sunday for the first time since July 6, is 6 for 14 with a home run.
The Twins won 13 of 18 against the White Sox last year, taking seven of nine in Chicago.
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