Consider the following. The Twins (87-74) already had suffered an inexplicable second straight loss at home to the Royals before the second inning of the White Sox contest against Cleveland was complete. That news came 20 minutes or so after word that AL Cy Young front-runner Cliff Lee was scratched by Cleveland from Sunday's start with neck stiffness and replaced by journeyman hurler Bryan Bullington.
All the White Sox had to do was beat Zach Jackson (2-3), making his ninth start this season, and they appeared to have more than control of their own destiny. Instead, the South Siders were walloped again -- losing by a 12-6 margin to a team with a 44-27 mark since July 10 -- and staying a half-game behind the Twins.
Such are the confounding results in the hard-to-figure race between the White Sox and Twins. But if Chicago (86-74) wins Sunday, regardless of Minnesota's results, it will have no less than a chance to force a tiebreaker on Tuesday by winning a makeup game with Detroit from Sept. 13 to be played Monday afternoon at home.
"It has been an extremely rough run," said White Sox reliever Matt Thornton, who allowed two hits in one-third of an inning, as the South Siders lost their fifth straight. "But the thing is, we still have life. We have to look at the division as if we are still tied."
"We've worked [too hard] to let it slip out of our fingers," added White Sox left fielder Nick Swisher, whose average dropped to .219 after an 0-for-3 showing. "As emotional as it has been, it might be taking a toll on us. But we have to forget all that and get ready for tomorrow."
If the White Sox end up one game or 1 1/2 games short of the division crown, manager Ozzie Guillen ultimately might want to re-think his plan to use Javier Vazquez, Mark Buehrle and Gavin Floyd two times each on three days' rest over the past two weeks. Vazquez (12-16) actually stands as the lone hurler of the trio to go through this routine twice, giving up one run over the first four innings Saturday, but then getting roughed up for six in the fifth.
For his career, Vazquez now has a 0-4 record with an 8.10 ERA when pitching on short rest. His record is 0-2 with a 14.63 ERA on three days' rest this season. In order to reach the postseason, the White Sox will rely on Buehrle pitching on three days' rest Sunday after throwing 121 pitches Wednesday, and Floyd and John Danks doing the same on Monday and Tuesday, respectively, if needed.
Guillen already was second-guessing himself concerning Vazquez's usage following Saturday's blowout.
"I blame myself and our coaching staff for bringing him back one day too early," said Guillen of Vazquez, who allowed seven runs on five hits over 4 1/3 innings, fanning five. "Maybe. If that's the reason, I take responsibility for that. But he was the best option we had."
Vazquez countered that he felt strong on the mound and the short rest had nothing to do with the outcome. The losses clearly are taking a toll on this team, with Vazquez and catcher A.J. Pierzynski exchanging somewhat heated words near the mound during Cleveland's six-run rally. Guillen said it was nothing more than the frustration of the game, while Pierzynski took a night's break from assessing his team's latest round of woes.
"That's between me and A.J.," said Vazquez of the minor incident. "I'm not going to talk about it. If he wants to talk about it, that's fine. It's done for me."
Trailing by an 8-2 margin in the eighth, the White Sox rallied for four runs off of three Cleveland relievers, punctuating the effort with Paul Konerko's two-run home run. Konerko's second blast of the night gave him 21 for the year, marking his ninth season with the White Sox to hit at least 20.
Cleveland (81-80) scored four times off of Scott Linebrink in the ninth, though, to remove any further suspense. When the dust settled three hours after Saturday's first pitch, the following scenarios remained to decide the division:
Minnesota and the White Sox both avoid home sweeps Sunday, and the White Sox face Detroit and Freddy Garcia on Monday. A Chicago win there brings about Tuesday's tiebreaker. If the White Sox and Twins both lose, the same scenario applies.
A South Siders win and a Minnesota loss means the White Sox can lock up the AL Central with a win on Monday afternoon, with a White Sox loss to Detroit once again bringing about Tuesday's tiebreaker.
As for a Minnesota win and sixth straight loss for the White Sox ...
With Minnesota's magic number down to two, it would bring about a finality the White Sox aren't ready to accept -- even with as poorly as they have played during the past week and the opportunities already missed.
"You gotta keep playing it out, keep playing hard, keep battling and keep fighting," said White Sox right fielder Jermaine Dye, who hit his 34th home run in the first inning Saturday. "We need to win [Sunday] and give ourselves a chance."
"There's a lot of ways to break this down and look at it," Konerko added. "I think the best thing to say is after 160 games, we still control our own destiny if we win, as hard as that is to say because we don't look like a winning team right now. We just have to try to block that out and start as fresh as we can."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.