White Sox ready for 'whatever it takes'
September showdown with Twins could be one for ages
CHICAGO -- On-field production from Nick Swisher hasn't been quite what the White Sox expected when they acquired him for three top prospects this past January, although Swisher did have his second-highest monthly RBI total of the season in August and knocked out seven home runs.
Yet, Swisher just might have provided a rallying cry for the co-American League Central leaders during their September push to the postseason.
"I heard Swish say, 'Whatever it takes to win this game,'" Chicago designated hitter Jim Thome said. "From the time we got here until we hit the dugout, that was everybody's focus, for sure."
Thome brought up Swisher's remarks following the White Sox 4-2 victory at Fenway Park on Sunday afternoon, avoiding a three-game sweep at the hands of the Red Sox. But the words ring true for pretty much any contest remaining on the docket for the South Siders, as they battle the Twins through a tight division race that figures to go down to the season's final week.
Both teams return this weekend after a long road trip, with Minnesota having played 14 away from home and Chicago having played 10, including the completion of a suspended home game from April 28 against Baltimore. And to be honest, not much has changed in regard to division control.
So, who has the advantage between the Twins and the White Sox as this regular-season race goes into its final lap? Both squads stand out as powers at home, like most playoff contenders this season, with Chicago holding a 46-22 mark at U.S. Cellular Field, and Minnesota checking in at 46-23 at the Metrodome.
Starting this weekend, Minnesota has 12 home games to be played, bracketing a 10-game road trip, while the White Sox have 13 in Chicago with a 10-game road excursion in the middle. No clear-cut advantage here, until the actual quality of competition is examined.
The Twins have only seven games against teams with records above .500, including four at St. Petersburg against the AL East-leading Rays. The White Sox double that total with 14. And then comes the big three-game series between the two, taking place from Sept. 23-25. It will be played at the Metrodome, where the South Siders have a 1-5 record this season.
For Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen, it's a little early to start looking at what could be the team's biggest three games since the 2005 postseason.
"Hopefully, when we face them, we'll be 10 games up," said Guillen with a smile. "But you never know.
"It's all about the competition, the excitement. It's about the players, how much they want it, how much they prepare for it. We're fine. I think everybody is mentally prepared for it."
The White Sox lead the Majors by a wide margin in home runs with 199, and there's nothing wrong for a team that plays at hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular to use the long ball to its advantage. Adding players such as Jerry Owens and Chris Getz through September callups, though, also gives Guillen a chance to play for one run late in the game by pinch-running these fleet-footed youngsters.
According to Guillen, Scott Linebrink stands as the only addition this team needs to finish off its season-long playoff quest. Linebrink, who arguably shared team Most Valuable Player honors in the season's first half with outfielder Carlos Quentin, has pitched once since the All-Star break but was activated Monday and could see game action as soon as Wednesday.
Even in a middle-inning role to begin, Linebrink will fortify an already solid bullpen unit.
"We need one guy and we'll be set. I will take my chances, and he wears this uniform," Guillen said. "When Linebrink comes back, this ballclub's going to be awesome."
Joe Crede's return at third provided a boost to the White Sox offense, and more importantly, their infield defense. The team's top clutch hitter should be fresh down the stretch after a month of inactivity.
Ultimately, the recipe for Chicago's success hasn't changed. Pitching will take Guillen's crew as far as it will go. Gavin Floyd has won five straight decisions and posted eight victories after White Sox losses, while Guillen and pitching coach Don Cooper have taken steps to make sure this staff is as well rested as possible.
Without Jose Contreras, the team is at a disadvantage with the need for a fifth starter after just one more off-day following Thursday. But the Chicago hurlers are prepared to do whatever it takes to win games and hold off Minnesota.
Those words belong to Swisher, but they are felt by the entire organization.
"A lot of guys in here have been in situations to where we know how to come ready to play every day," said White Sox right fielder Jermaine Dye, who has 32 home runs and 83 RBIs this season. "We just have to come in and worry about that day, and win the ballgame on that day."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.