It's beginning to take quite the optimist to consider the Chicago White Sox a wild-card contender, and if their seven-game homestand with Boston and Seattle continues in the way it started, they might no longer have to deal with the identity crisis.
A prime stretch of games to make up ground continues Tuesday night in Chicago with the White Sox trying to even the three-game series with the Red Sox.
Chicago (58-65) is six games back of Texas for the second wild card - with seven teams to pass - after Monday's 5-4 defeat dropped it to 7-12 at home since the All-Star break.
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When the White Sox faced Boston from July 27-30, they won the first three games to extend a season-best winning streak to seven and get within a game of .500. The 9-15 span and 5.52 starting ERA that's followed has vice president Ken Williams scratching his head.
"I've not watched a team I've had this long and still not been able to figure it out," Williams, whose club hosts struggling Seattle for four games starting Thursday, told MLB's official website. "Generally, in June, I can figure out what our identity is and can look at a schedule and say, 'We should win this game, we're going to have a tougher time with this one.' I don't know with this club that I'm able to do that."
They've at least been able to find some consistency in Jose Quintana (7-10, 3.60 ERA).
The left-hander yielded two runs in 6 1-3 innings of a 9-2 win July 29 to give him a 2-0 mark and 1.63 ERA in four career starts against Boston.
He also earned the decision in Thursday's 8-2 road victory over the Los Angeles Angels after giving up two runs in six innings. The 26-year-old is 3-1 with a 2.93 ERA in his last six outings, and he hasn't walked three batters in his last 15 starts.
"He attacks the zone and keeps the ball down," catcher Geovany Soto said. "He knows how to pitch. Despite being as young as he is, he really knows how to do his job and knows how to prepare for a major league game. And he's only going to get better from here."
He's up against Wade Miley, who's also been in strong form.
Miley (10-9, 4.41) surrendered a run in 7 1-3 innings of Thursday's 4-1 home win over Kansas City. The left-hander has won back-to-back starts with a 1.88 ERA.
"I'm just commanding the ball a little bit better," Miley said. "When you're commanding better, you get some swings and early contact, and get deeper into ballgames."
That wasn't the case in a 9-4 home loss to Chicago on July 28 as the White Sox tagged him for seven runs and 10 hits in 5 2-3 innings.
Jose Abreu, who homered in that game, has gone deep in two straight and is batting .472 with four homers, six doubles and 10 RBIs in a nine-game hitting streak in the series.
Melky Cabrera is 3 for 5 against Miley, but Adam LaRoche is 0 for 8.
Boston (57-68) continued to impress at the plate in the opener with Rusney Castillo going 3 for 4 with a home run, double and five RBIs. The rookie right fielder is batting .429 with a 1.288 OPS in a nine-game hitting streak.
"The guy has been dynamite," interim manager Torey Lovullo said. "He has responded to a lot of the challenges. I know that he's been coming on as of late and letting his game speak for itself. There is an ease and a rhythm to him."
Over a 13-10 span, the Red Sox are averaging 6.6 runs and batting .311 - both MLB bests.