With 10 games left in this season, one thing has become abundantly clear: Whether you think the White Sox or Tigers deserve to make the playoffs, they definitely deserve each other.
The White Sox took a three-game lead on the road and ended up losing five of six games in Kansas City and Los Angeles. They could have returned to Chicago merely sharing first place, but the Tigers lost both ends of a Sunday doubleheader ...
... to the Twins...
... at home.
It seems like the Tigers can only gain games on the Sox when the Sox are right in front of them. As much as the Tigers have tormented the Sox head-to-head, they have the most generous and charitable spirit when the Sox aren't watching. And isn't that the purest charity of all?
The help from the Twins takes the edge off a road trip that would usually inspire panic. The Sox scored just 11 runs over their last six games, and pulled a 1987 Ron Karkovice with runners in scoring position (3-for-42). Worse yet, one of those hits failed to score a run.
On the other hand, their performance was only half-bad. The pitching held up well enough (3.83 runs allowed per game), and the bullpen was spectacular (two runs, 10 baserunners over 15⅓ innings), crossing one complaint off Hawk Harrelson's lengthy list.
It really is all about the offense, and the lineup's ability to bounce back from their most frustrating stretch of the season will likely decide if there's a postseason in the cards.
The good news is that we've seen this before. Oh, we are very familiar with this routine.
For the fourth time in the second half alone, the White Sox return home after being swept in the final leg of a road trip. In each of the first three times, they have rebounded well enough to restore their lead.
The first came right after the break:
July 20-22: Swept by Detroit, capping off 3-7 road trip and trailing by 1½ games by the end of it.
Nature of losses: Starters were outpitched the top of Detroit's rotation and Jacob Turner.
South Side Sox headline: Tigers 6, White Sox 4: Swept in Detroit
What happened after: The White Sox rattled off five straight wins against Minnesota and Texas, not only regaining the lead, but stretching it to 2½ games.
Aug. 17-19: Swept by Kansas city, but only lost one game off their 2½ game lead because the Tigers lost two of three to Baltimore.
Nature of losses: Two offensive no-shows against Luis Mendoza and Jeremy Guthrie sandwiching a three-error stinkbomb.
South Side Sox headline: Royals 5, White Sox 2: Barbequed
What happened after: The White Sox rattled off six wins in a row, sweeping the Yankees and Mariners. They only gained one game in the process.
Aug. 31- Sept. 2: 1-6 road trip, capped off by yet another sweep at Comerica Park that erased a three-game lead.
Nature of losses: They didn't bunt at a hobbled Miguel Cabrera.
South Side Sox headline: Tigers 4, White Sox 2: Another September sweep
What happened after: The White Sox gained the division lead back the next day, and eventually stretched it out to three, even though they merely alternated wins and losses.
If you didn't know any better, you might think the White Sox do this by choice, like a boxer who covers up along the ropes for 20 seconds until the bell rings, with the hopes of starting over the next round.
I don't think baseball works like that, although there could be some fatigue involved. The Sox have spent more time on the road (15-24) than at home (19-9) in the second half, and maybe the bigger dimensions of Kauffman and Angel stadiums are mentally taxing to a team that relies on home runs more than most. This is armchair psychology, but it's nobody can really explain why the Sox repeatedly failed at such fundamental situations.
If there is an excuse, it won't fly over the next seven days. The Sox host Cleveland for three and Tampa Bay for four, while the Tigers host the Royals for four, then finish the season on the road. Nobody should expect the Tigers to drop three in a row (tonight is a Justin Verlander-Luke Hochevar matchup), but we should probably throw expectations out the window for the last 10 games. The only thing we can count on in this "race" is that neither team should be counted on, nor counted out.