It comes down to Gavin Floyd.
A couple of weeks ago, Francisco Liriano looked like a serviceable deadline addition at a more-than-reasonable price. Then he lost all concept of the strike zone and forced the Sox to relegate him to the bullpen, which wasn't in the plans.
Worse yet, his control problems followed him. This is how his White Sox relief career started:
It may have ended in equally spectacular fashion, as he failed to retire any of the three batters he faced on Tuesday night. Two of those guys scored, and two runs was the margin of loss. Yech.
What was weird about choosing Liriano in that situation is that the Sox had already survived a bout of the walksies. Nate Jones started his inning by walking the first two guys he faced, and Detroit didn't score. Liriano, who walked 15 batters over 14 innings over his last three starts, didn't seem like a solid bet to get the eighth off to a more manageable start.
Alas, reliable options are falling by the wayside, and Liriano's recital of "Etude in Fart" serves as a prelude to two other hefty gambles in tonight's highly significant affair. Sure, the White Sox don't need to win this one, but with Justin Verlander lurking in Max Scherzer's shadow for the finale, the Sox would certainly prefer to avoid that corner.
The first gamble is Gavin Floyd, who hasn't pitched since Aug. 26, when he left a game in the third inning due to an elbow strain. The MRI checked out OK, and he reported no problems throwing off a mound. With no rehab starts to be had, that's as much as anybody can know.
Robin Ventura is pinning his hopes on a Floyd rebound in order to take advantage of Detroit in two ways. He's pitched well against the Tigers over his career, going 7-2 with a 3.42 ERA and generally reliable performances start to start.
Also, Floyd poses platoon problems for Jim Leyland, who is coming up short with lefty bats:
"I might DH [Ryan Raburn[ because he hits in this park [Raburn's average in U.S. Cellular Field is .309 with eight homers and 30 RBI in 47 games]."
Lefty [Brennan] Boesch also has hit well at Sox Park (.286, four home runs, seven RBI in 20 games)--but not against Floyd.
"You'd like to play Boesch in this park, and he will play [Thursday] against Chris Sale]--but he's 0-for-17 with six strikeouts against Floyd," Leyland said.
"If you don't play him and don't play Raburn, you have to figure out what to do. I'll probably play Boesch because in this park, he might hit a homer--but it's a mindboggling thing when you look at the numbers."
Working in Leyland's favor is Floyd's general Floydness, along with his iffy condition. He didn't clear the third inning in either of his last two starts due to control problems in the first, and elbow problems during the second. So it's a bigger crap shoot than usual, and not the guy the Sox would pick to ride into battle with against a formidable foe in Scherzer.
Turnabout is fair play, and so Scherzer forces Ventura's hand in another part of the game as he weighs the pros and cons of Adam Dunn's return. The Sox need to load up on lefties against Scherzer, who gives up nearly 300 points of OPS (.861 to .581) to opposite-handed batters.
It's impossible to tell how well Dunn can hang in there, because his assessments of his own health have been shaky at best. For the second straight year, Dunn called himself a "quick healer," only to rue his hubris:
Before the game, Dunn said, "I want to wait until I have no problems as opposed to coming back a day or two early and having this thing do this again and missing significant time," adding he was "stupid" when he pushed the issue coming back the first time.
Dunn took an injection and is getting treatment from trainer Herm Schneider.
"What we’re trying to do is get it to where I can swing, that’s the problem,’’ he said. "It’s not getting out of bed now, it’s not sneezing. I’m not going to pick up a bat today and hopefully tomorrow they’ll let me do some stuff."
I liked Ozzie Guillen's policy (at least when he cared about the outcome) of waiting until a player was 100 percent, and then waiting one more day. As much as Dunn wants to grit it out, it sounds like he could really use the generous timetable.
Given how hapless the Sox looked against Doug Fister's sweeping curve, one would hope Ventura would load up on lefties to attempt to thwart Scherzer's slider (unless this quote from Ventura is indicative of his strategy, and ruh roh if it is). That's the easiest call during a stretch where big risks are necessary otherwise. Tonight could very well feature two of the biggest ones.