MLB Playoff Race: Alex Rios Comes Up Big In Chicago

The American League’s big series got underway yesterday on the South Side of Chicago, and the White Sox came up with a 6-1 win over the Tigers that gave Chicago the first of a four-game set and extended their lead in the AL Central to three games. Rick Porcello was solid through five innings for Detroit and took a 1-0 lead into the sixth, but then Alex Rios left his mark.

Chicago’s rightfielder hit a three-run shot to make it a 3-1 game and A.J. Pierszynski immediately followed with a solo home run of his own. It was plenty for Jose Quintana who worked into the eighth inning and kept Detroit’s power duo of Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera under control. The Tigers’ muscle men combined to go just 1-for-8 with a single and no walks. Porcello, and the three relievers that followed him for Detroit, were effective at handling the top of the Chicago order. Alejandro de Aza, Kevin Youkilis and DeWayne Wise went a collective 0-for-11, though they did draw a couple walks. But with Rios bailed everyone out with the long ball and the folks in the South Side can breathe a little easier.

Oakland’s visit to Los Angeles in the hotly contested wild-card race is one of two other big battles going on in the American League in the early part of this week. Jarrod Parker pitched seven innings of one-run ball for Oakland and the A’s got a 3-1 win. Dan Haren pitched well for the Angels, but in a 1-1 game he gave up leadoff home runs to Brandon Moss in the fifth inning and Chad Pennington in the sixth and those lapses were too much to overcome.

Coco Crisp, the A’s centerfielder and leadoff man, continues to swing a hot bat over the past several weeks, as he led the game off with a triple against Haren and scored on a ground ball out. The Halos’ top of the order, Mike Trout and Tori Hunter combined to tie the game in the third when Trout got aboard and Hunter doubled him in. But Albert Pujols went 0-for-4 in the middle.

The third MLB playoff race showdown battle is Baltimore and Tampa Bay, and that gets underway tonight in Camden Yards as Jason Hammel faces Matt Moore. Hammel pitched very well on Thursday against New York, holding the Yanks to one run in six innings of work. With the Orioles’ missing rightfielder Nick Markakis with a broken thumb and the Tampa Bay pitching staff in lockdown mode as it is, Hammel doesn’t have much room for error.

Detroit sends Doug Fister to the mound tonight, hoping their #2 starter can help keep them alive and give Justin Verlander a chance to pitch a big game on Thursday. The White Sox would obviously like to ensure a split prior to then, even if they have Chris Sale waiting for the finale. They’ll send Jake Peavy to the hill tonight. Out west, it’s young Dan Straily for the A’s against veteran journeyman Jerome Williams for the Angels.

In the quieter National League, Pittsburgh suffered its third straight tough loss, losing 4-3 in a 14-inning battle to Cincinnati. Wandy Rodriguez was unable to hold a 3-0 lead, as Chris Heisey—the Reds centerfielder who’s suddenly morphed into the second coming of Eric Davis at the plate—hit a two-run blast and then Cincy tied it in the seventh. And in the NL East, Gio Gonzalez, the new ace for the Washington Nationals, won his 19th game in downing the Mets 5-1. If nothing else, the shutdown of Stephen Strasburg will give Gonzalez some deserved attention in the postseason.