Enjoying the longest current win streak in major league baseball, the Chicago White Sox try to close out the first half of the season with six straight victories as they entertain the Toronto Blue Jays in the finale of a three-game set at U.S. Cellular Field.
On Saturday the White Sox, leaders in the American League Central by a full three games over Cleveland, pitched their eighth shutout of the season as they handed Toronto a 2-0 setback. Chicago starter Gavin Floyd worked his way through 7 2/3 innings, allowing just four hits and a couple of walks while striking out three. Reliever Matt Thornton picked up his second save of 2012 as he fanned two and permitted just one hit in 1 1/3.
Recent acquisition Kevin Youkilis supplied all the offense the hosts needed as he delivered a two-out, two-run home run in the bottom of the fifth inning that plated Alexei Ramirez.
"He plays the game the right way. He plays the game hard every single day," said Thornton of Youkilis. "He brings a great attitude every single day."
Toronto slugger Jose Bautista was credited with the lone extra-base hit for the visitors, but in trying to stretch a double into a triple he was called out, erasing any real threat the Jays were able to muster in the contest.
Ricky Romero was saddled with the loss as he surrendered the Youkilis home run, giving up a total of four hits and walking three as he struck out two over six innings.
"[I pitched] under control, I think that was the key," Romero said. "I threw every pitch with a purpose and didn't get ahead of myself. I made one mistake and it cost us the game. In the end, it's all about winning."
Stepping to this hill this afternoon for the Blue Jays will be Brett Cecil, making just his fifth appearance of the campaign for the club. The left-hander most recently pitched against Kansas City at home on Tuesday, working his way through six innings, allowing three runs on five hits and a walk, while striking out three in a 6-3 victory.
A product of Maryland, Cecil is making his third career appearance versus the White Sox, having produced a 1-1 record with a 4.76 ERA thus far.
As for the Sox, they have Dylan Axelrod penciled in as their starter for the final game of the first half of the season. The right-hander, originally drafted by San Diego in the 30th round back in 2007, has factored into just a single decision so far in 2012, a loss to Detroit back on May 6.
On Independence Day he was pitted against Texas at home, giving up four runs on seven hits and a couple of walks, while fanning two through 5 2/3 innings. While Chicago won that meeting, 5-4, Axelrod failed to figure into the decision.
The California native has made just one previous appearance versus the Jays, securing a victory after pitching six scoreless innings.
The Jays, now a game under .500 and 9 1/2 games off the pace in the American League East as they settle into last place, have dropped three straight outings. At this stage one of the biggest issues for the club is a pitching staff that is third from the bottom in the AL in overall ERA with a mark of 4.41. The bullpen ranks last in the league in saves as well with just 15.
Over on the other side, Chicago's combined ERA is a more respectable 3.82 and the staff is tied for first in the AL in batting average against with a mark of .240.
Toronto has won the season series between the team in each of the previous three years, but at this point the Sox lead this year by a count of 3-2, although they have yet to play at Rogers Centre in Toronto.