Time running out on South Side
White Sox playoff chances take hit following 6-1 defeat
CHICAGO -- Time is running out.
No one in the White Sox clubhouse really wants to contemplate all the mathematical scenarios. But time -- as it pertains to qualifying for the 2009 Major League Baseball postseason -- is not on Chicago's side.
Not after Chicago's 6-1 loss against Boston on Sunday afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field, anyway. Coupled with Detroit's 5-3 ninth-inning comeback victory over Tampa Bay earlier in the day, the White Sox now find themselves eight games behind the first-place Tigers in the American League Central with just 24 contests to play.
The South Siders, who had their four-game winning streak snapped, are farther behind than they have been at any point during the season.
"We need to win as many games as we can," said John Danks, Sunday afternoon's starting pitcher for the White Sox. "This doesn't help, for sure. But there's enough games left. There's not as many as we would like to have left, but there's enough."
Just barely, it would seem.
Even if the Tigers play .500 baseball -- which is below their regular-season clip of 75-61 -- in their remaining 26 games, Chicago would need to produce the kind of extended winning string it hasn't had during the entire year, going roughly 20-4 to close the season. The AL Wild Card is even more of a long shot, as the AL Wild Card-leading Red Sox (79-57) increased their cushion to 12 games over the White Sox (68-70).
In other words, it's going to take some sort of colossal late-season push by the White Sox or an epic collapse from the Tigers for Chicago to find its way into the postseason.
The only formula that's certain right now in Chicago is that the margin for error is slimmer than ever.
"No question," White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko said. "Now it's getting close to math when you start seeing how many games you have left and how many you're back."
On Sunday, Danks put in yet another workmanlike effort on the mound. Looking for what would have been his career-high 13th victory, Danks instead was saddled with a defeat, despite producing his sixth consecutive quality start.
Danks lasted six innings, allowing three runs on seven hits with four strikeouts. The southpaw entered Sunday's game 3-0 over his past five outings, having allowed nine earned runs in 34 2/3 innings (2.33 ERA), and his recent string of positive performances carried into Sunday.
For the most part, at least.
In the top of the fourth inning, Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell broke a scoreless tie, planting a home run 333 feet into the White Sox bullpen in left field, a two-run shot that put Boston ahead, 2-0. Lowell's 17th homer of the season came on a first-pitch fastball from Danks (12-9). Jason Bay, who singled to lead off the frame, scored on the blast.
"I tried to keep us in the game," Danks said. "I thought I did a decent job of that. I made a couple mistakes there. I threw a decent pitch to Lowell. He's a good hitter and he hit it out. I feel like it was a battle, and unfortunately we lost."
Boston added a run in the fifth, when Bay singled to left field, plating Jacoby Ellsbury from second for a 3-0 lead.
Offensively, Chicago produced very little against Boston starter Jon Lester (12-7). Scott Podsednik managed three singles in his first three at-bats, but Lester held the rest of the lineup to just one hit, a one-out double to Jermaine Dye in the fourth inning.
Lester went seven innings, allowing no runs on four hits with eight strikeouts and two walks on 122 pitches. He ended his afternoon by striking out both Chris Getz and Alex Rios looking to finish off the seventh.
"You know going up against a guy like that, you've got to be almost flawless," Danks said.
Only a solo home run from backup catcher Ramon Castro saved the White Sox from a shutout. Castro went deep in the bottom of the eighth inning off Red Sox reliever Billy Wagner to trim the score to 3-1.
In the ninth inning, however, Red Sox catcher Victor Martinez drove a three-run home run over the right-field wall against White Sox reliever Octavio Dotel to put the game firmly out of reach.
All the while, Detroit was busy adding insult to the White Sox injury by staging a late-game comeback, with Brandon Inge launching the go-ahead grand slam against Tampa Bay in the ninth inning for the 5-3 win.
"I keep saying it's going to be harder and harder," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said of his team's postseason plight. "The way Detroit is playing right now, they're on a roll and we're not. It's not impossible, but every day is going to be tougher and tougher."
White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle is set to take the hill in the series finale of this four-game set against the Red Sox on Monday afternoon. Before Chicago left for its most recent 11-game road trip, when the White Sox were 2 1/2 games out of first, Buehrle said the stretch would either make the White Sox season or break it.
Chicago went 3-8. Now Buehrle -- like the rest of his teammates -- reluctantly is starting to consider the mathematical odds of making the playoffs, however slim they are becoming.
"Time is running out, but mathematically, we're not out of it," Buehrle said. "But I think everybody that watches baseball knows what's going on. It's nothing good."
Jesse Temple is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.