Skidding White Sox aim to rebound vs. rolling Rays

Losing two out of three to the lowly Cleveland Indians has to sting for the Chicago White Sox.

The poor effort versus the Tribe pushed Chicago one game behind the Detroit Tigers for the American League Central lead, and now the White Sox will face the playoff-hungry Tampa Bay Rays tonight in the opener of a four-game series.

Chicago has floundered a bit recently, having dropped two straight and seven of eight, and is coming off Wednesday's 6-4 loss versus Cleveland at U.S. Cellular Field. Hector Santiago opened the game on the hill and gave up three runs in 3 1/3 innings, while Matt Thornton was dealt the loss for allowing the go-ahead run in the seventh inning.

Paul Konerko, Alex Rios, A.J. Pierzynski and Alexei Ramirez each knocked in a run for the White Sox. The Tigers defeated Kansas City last night to claim sole possession of the AL Central.

"We have to find a way to win games. We jump out to a lead and we have to shut them down. Tonight we weren't able to do that," Pierzynski said.

At least the White Sox will have veteran Jake Peavy on the mound for Thursday's opener versus the Rays, but he is just 2-5 in his past seven decisions. Peavy lost to the LA Angels in Friday's 6-2 defeat at the Big A, where he gave up five runs and eight hits in five innings.

Peavy's record dropped below .500 at 11-12 in his 30th start and his earned run average rose to 3.40. The right-hander is 6-4 in 14 home starts this season and 2-1 with a lofty 6.48 ERA in three career starts against the Rays.

The Rays are rolling with seven straight wins and swept a quick two-game set in Boston to kick off a six-game road trip.

In Wednesday's 4-2 win over the Red Sox at Fenway Park, Carlos Pena and Ben Francisco both homered and Jeff Keppinger went 2-for-4 with two runs scored for the Rays, who sit three games off the last wild card spot in the AL.

Alex Cobb continued his recent dominance on the hill and collected the win by holding the Red Sox to a run and three hits in five innings. Cy Young Award candidate Fernando Rodney tacked on his 45th save with a scoreless ninth.

"I want it to be exactly like last year," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It's starting to look a lot like Christmas. We've just been playing so well. The mantra is one game at a time."

James Shields gets the nod for Maddon's club tonight and is 7-2 with a 2.04 earned run average in his last 10 starts. The Rays are 8-2 over that time and gave him plenty of run support his previous time out in a 12-1 win versus Toronto last Friday. Shields struck out nine and held the Blue Jays scoreless through seven innings.

Shields, who is 15-9 in 31 starts with a 3.65 ERA this season, lost to the White Sox back on May 29, when he was torched for six runs, five of which were earned, and 10 hits in six innings. The right-hander is 3-3 with a 4.95 ERA in 10 career starts against Chicago.

Chicago swept that early-season series from May 28-30 and has won six of the past nine matchups between the two clubs.