There are a number of series this weekend between playoff contenders. The Yankees and Orioles will meet in Baltimore, with the winner in the proverbial driver's seat for the AL East title. The Rays, fighting both for a wild-card spot and to stay in the AL East race, will play the AL West's first-place Rangers at home. The Dodgers and Giants play another of their traditional grudge matches in San Francisco; the Dodgers need to win or sweep to stay within reach of that division lead. And the Tigers and Angels, both wild-card contenders, meet in Anaheim. The Tigers also are in contention for the AL Central title, just one game behind the White Sox.
Which brings me to another series that might not get quite as much attention as those above, but might shake up the American League playoff race: the three-game set on the South Side of Chicago between the White Sox and Kansas City Royals.
The Royals, you say? They're 15 games under .500 and far out of contention themselves. Ah, but they have dominated the White Sox this season, winning eight of the 12 games between the clubs so far this season. They've won four of the six games played in Chicago, where the White Sox have the best home record in the American League.
Why is this so? Bruce Chen, oddly enough, is one of the answers. Chen, a modestly talented left-hander whose 5.28 ERA ranks 33rd of 37 qualified starters in the AL, has defeated the White Sox twice this season despite posting a 5.19 ERA against them. He had their number in 2011, too, with a 1.89 ERA against them in five starts. Chen will be facing one of the AL's top starters, Chris Sale, in Saturday's match-up, so the White Sox ought to have a fighting chance.
Friday night, Francisco Liriano goes against Luis Mendoza; Mendoza has a 2.96 ERA in four appearances (three starts) against the White Sox, while Liriano has posted a 3.97 overall mark against Kansas City in two outings. But White Sox pitchers in general have not pitched well against the Royals this season; the Sox have been outscored 56-35 in the 12 games played so far between the two clubs. Royals hitters, who rank last in the American League with 110 home runs, have smashed 16 of those in the 12 meetings with the White Sox. Weird things happen during series between these teams -- an accidental elbow thrown by Kansas City's Jarrod Dyson last month put the White Sox' Paul Konerko on the concussion disabled list.
In addition to their six games remaining with the White Sox, the Royals have seven left against the Tigers, including the last three games of the season at Kauffman Stadium. And just as the Royals seem to have the White Sox' number this year, Detroit has had a relatively easy time with Kansas City, winning seven of the 11 meetings so far and outscoring the Royals 49-34 in those games.
The White Sox and Tigers have substantially identical intra-division schedules remaining; in addition to their Royals match-ups, both play the Indians twice. The Tigers have two series against the woeful Twins, while the White Sox play them just once; Chicago's other remaining sets are at Anaheim against the Angels and at home against the Rays. Detroit also travels to Anaheim and plays the wild-card-contending Athletics at home.
So it would appear that strength-of-schedule for the Tigers and White Sox is quite similar. There are some teams that simply appear to have another team's number in a particular season, even though they're not as talented. The awful 2011 Orioles, after all, single-handedly knocked the Red Sox out of the playoffs by winning five of seven against them last September, including the dramatic final game of the season. This doesn't always have a logical answer, or can be measured statistically. This year, that team might be the 2012 Royals, who are going to have quite a bit to say about who wins the AL Central.