by Ted Cox
After winning Monday's opener of a four-game series with the Detroit Tigers to seemingly put themselves in the driver's seat, the Sox blew early leads in the fifth inning both Tuesday and Wednesday and never recovered either night.
That left them but a game ahead of the Tigers before Thursday's series finale. Afterward, either they'll be tied or the Sox will be back to two games ahead, where they started the series, but having whittled four games off to the end of the season—and four games off the magic number.
Otherwise, both teams will have the same magic number—20. Because, the way they're both playing (the Tigers are a slovenly team overall and committed three errors Monday), neither has a shot at the wild card if it fails to win the American League Central Division.
The last meeting of the season between the two features a spectacular pitching matchup: Sox phenom Chris Sale against Detroit ace and reigning Cy Young Award (and, by the way, Most Valuable Player) winner Justin Verlander. It figures to be every bit as good as the weather is bad—unless of course the weather intrudes so much as to mar the pitching.
Still, it's the way the Sox have lost against the Tigers that has been most disturbing. They went meekly after surrendering the lead Tuesday, fought back but fell short after the bullpen put them in a deeper hole Wednesday.
They haven't shown the big-game feel of a division-winning team, although they hinted at it Monday. The Sox have reeled back and forth from very good to very bad. They're a streaky team that hasn't been able to turn it on when it absolutely needed to thus far. They can change that back Thursday, although they're putting a lot of pressure on young Sale. It can't be helped, though—except with a victory over one of the game's best pitchers.