CHICAGO -- By the time the sixth inning rolled around in Tuesday's 18-9 shellacking administered by the Twins at U.S. Cellular Field, it was hard to tell the White Sox without a scorecard.
Even a scorecard didn't make life that much easier.
Dan Johnson was at first, Orlando Hudson was at second, Jordan Danks was in right, Hector Gimenez had taken over at designated hitter, Ray Olmedo moved to shortstop, Dewayne Wise got the call in left and Jose Lopez stood at third. Tyler Flowers and Alejandro De Aza remained as the only two starters in the game. This Spring Training feel would have been a fun story if it was the White Sox (73-62) on the positive side of a 14-run advantage.
Instead it was the South Siders who watched their eight-game home winning streak come to a close, and it was the South Siders who failed to take advantage of a second-straight 3-2 loss for the second-place Tigers (72-63) at Comerica Park to the Indians, who have a 3-18 record in their last 21 road games.
With every victory so precious in the postseason push, the White Sox didn't want to lose any of their remaining 28 contests. But the nature of Tuesday's drubbing made this setback a little easier to handle.
"They just wiped us out. It wasn't like a close ballgame," said White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham. "We didn't grind nine innings through that and then come up short."
"It is what it is tonight," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura. "I'm not even looking at this as a sign of anything. It's just one of those games. Put it behind you and play tomorrow."
Tuesday's missed division opportunity was worse than the actual final score, but both of those concerns paled in comparison to the team's seemingly mounting pitching problems. These particular struggles belonged to rookie Jose Quintana.
Quintana (5-4) actually was staked to a three-run first-inning lead when Paul Konerko, Alex Rios and Dayan Viciedo all picked up RBIs against Minnesota starter Scott Diamond (11-6). That lead lasted until a seven-run, seven-hit second inning for the Twins.
The southpaw only made it through one out into the second, departing after Jamey Carroll's run-scoring single to left. Eduardo Escobar, whom the White Sox traded to the Twins (56-80) as part of the Francisco Liriano deal, singled home two in the frame and added another run-scoring hit during a 10-run fifth inning that marked the highest single-inning output against the White Sox in 2012. The pitchers allowed 18 runs in a game for the first time since Sept. 4, 2011, when Detroit claimed an 18-2 victory.
In those 1 1/3 innings, Quintana yielded seven runs on four hits and two walks, meaning he has allowed 12 earned runs over his last five innings covering two starts. The logical thought would be that Quintana has hit a wall as he moves well beyond his previous single-season innings high of 102.
That answer was not the one Quintana provided following the shortest start of his career.
"I wouldn't say I feel like I hit a wall," said Quintana through translator and White Sox manager of cultural development Jackson Miranda. "It was just a horrible night for me. That's the best way to describe it. There are some things I need to work on. I'm continuing to learn."
"One of those nights where we got on a roll, started swinging and the ball kept falling and finding holes," Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Very good night offensively."
If the White Sox stay on turn, Quintana would start Monday in the opener of a potentially season-deciding four-game home set against the Tigers.
Other options for the White Sox would be Dylan Axelrod, who yielded two runs over 2 2/3 innings in relief Tuesday, and Hector Santiago, who gave up just one run Monday over five-plus innings in his first Major League start. One of those two hurlers most likely will get the call in Sunday's series finale with the Royals. With Thursday's off-day, Wednesday's starter Jake Peavy could come back on regular rest Monday against the Tigers, but the White Sox would need a starter for Tuesday.
That off-day gives Ventura a chance to use Quintana on regular rest against the Royals and then plug in Axelrod or Santiago against the Tigers. Philip Humber does not appear to be a starting option after giving up eight runs on seven hits and two walks in one-third of an inning before Ventura came to get him following 41 pitches in the fifth Tuesday.
"You never want it to happen to you," said Humber of his off night. "You have to accept it and move on because I want to get back out there again soon. It wasn't fun by any means. It's part of the game and tonight was my night to do it."
Twelve men came to the plate for the Twins in that second inning. Fourteen came to the plate in the fifth, marking the first time since 1903 the White Sox allowed at least seven runs in two innings of a single game.
Ten doubles knocked out by the White Sox set a franchise record and Wise, who had two of the doubles, pitched a scoreless ninth to help save the bullpen. Otherwise, it was a forgettable night in the mind of Ventura and his team.
"They've got more players than a football team," Gardenhire said. "So they kept running guys out there and I kept wondering where they were getting all those guys."
"Kind of ugly for us all the way around," Ventura said. "And move on."