What happened to the Twins?

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What happened to the Twins?

The White Sox clung to a slim lead in the AL Central after their game on July 18, 2010. But it was clear to anyone watching Minnesota was the better team, and it was only a matter of time before they blew past the White Sox en route to their sixth AL Central title in nine years.

Through eight games against the Twins in 2011, the White Sox were 1-7 and had been no-hit by Francisco Liriano. By July, when the Twins took three of four from the Sox at U.S. Cellular Field, it was established that Minnesota was a bad team. Yet the Sox still couldn't beat them.

But in the final 10 games against Minnesota last season, something finally clicked for the White Sox. Zach Stewart nearly threw a perfect game on Sept. 5 in Minneapolis. A month earlier, they swept away the Twins in a three-game series at Target Field. Overall, the Sox won eight of those 10 games against Minnesota in the season's final two months.

The Sox didn't eradicate some curse against Minneosota. Instead, it would appear that the Twins' poor pitching and questionable front-office decisions finally caught up with them against a team that, simply, was better.

Minnesota went 63-99 in 2011, the second-worst record in the majors and their worst season since a 22-year-old A.J. Pierzynski and a 23-year-old David Ortiz had cups of coffee in 1999. Through about one-fourth of the 2012 season, Minnesota is 14-27. This time, it's the worst record in baseball.

Pitching has been Minnesota's greatest ailment. As a staff, Twins pitchers have an MLB-worst 5.43 ERA, and there may not be relief in sight. A 4.86 staff FIP -- a good predictor of future pitching success -- is similarly the worst in baseball.

Minnesota's bullpen doesn't deserve to be lumped in with its starters, though. The Twins' relief corps hasn't been bad, sporting a middle-of-the-pack 3.61 ERA heading into Tuesday.

It's been the starting rotation that has dragged the Twins into the depths of baseball's standings. Through 41 outings, Twins starters have a 6.67 ERA -- that's nearly three runs higher than the ERA of White Sox starters. Nick Blackburn, Liam Hendriks, Francisco Liriano and Jason Marquis have combined for an ERA near nine in 24 starts, although none of those guys may wind up starting a game for the Twins any time soon.

P.J. Walters and Scott Diamond will start against the White Sox, and they've provided some relief in five combined starts. But neither are going to strike many batters out, and neither represent a long-term solution. For years, the Twins had enough pitching depth to fill in if someone needed to be replaced in their rotation. They don't have that anymore.

Making matters worse, the Twins' front office has made some questionable moves in recent years. They traded JJ Hardy for hardly a fair return and overpaid for Matt Capps in the form of catcher Wilson Ramos (who would've allowed them more flexibility with Joe Mauer than, say, Drew Butera).

Marquis has bombed, as has Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Their defense has taken a hit -- remember how those old Ron Gardenhire teams played such immaculate defense? That's not the case anymore.

For years, Minnesota's pitching and defense went hand-in-hand. They had some dominant arms -- Johan Santana, Liriano for a few seasons -- but they were aided by fantastic defense. As those dominant arms left or struggled, they were able to get by with the Nick Blackburns of the world by still having great defense.

Without that high level of glovework, Minnesota's pitchers have struggled. It's no accident the Twins has ranked last in the American League in hits and strikeouts per nine innings in the last two seasons.

And, of course, injuries have bludgeoned the Twins in the last few years. Mauer, Scott Baker, Justin Morneau and a host of others haven't been healthy in the last few years, and the lack of those players -- either on the field or producing at a high level -- has been the icing on the foul-tasting cake of the Twins' struggles.

The Twins come to Chicago winners of four of their last five games, including a two-game sweep of Detroit at Comerica Park and a series win over the Brewers in Milwaukee.

But the one loss in there, which came Sunday, saw the Twins fall to Milwaukee by a score of 16-4. It was a painful reminder of where Minnesota stands.

In dead last.

Preview: White Sox face the Mariners Thursday on CSN

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Preview: White Sox face the Mariners Thursday on CSN

The White Sox take on the Seattle Mariners on Thursday, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Thursday’s starting pitching matchup: Anthony Ranaudo vs. James Paxton

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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James Shields, White Sox lose to Phillies and snap winning streak

James Shields, White Sox lose to Phillies and snap winning streak

James Shields allowed his fewest runs in a month on Wednesday night, but it wasn’t enough to avoid a loss.

Shields yielded two more home runs in six innings and his offense couldn’t keep pace as the White Sox lost to the Philadelphia Phillies 5-3 in front of 15,630 at U.S. Cellular Field. Shields gave up four earned runs and seven hits. Dioner Navarro homered in the loss, which snapped a three-game White Sox winning streak.

“We’ve seen better,” manager Robin Ventura said. “(Shields) got to two strikes, two outs and gave up a couple there and that’s tough. The homer to left, that’s just one you get in this ballpark. The biggest one, for him, mistake-wise was the homer to Joseph. I think that’s the one that he wants back. But as far as going out there and getting us to a point, he’s still got room to improve on. But he got through it.”

The six innings pitched marks the most by Shields since July 26.

In between, Shields allowed 28 runs (27 earned) and 33 hits in 14 innings over four turns, good for a 17.36 ERA.

He fell behind 3-0 by the third inning before he settled in and retired nine of 11 batters. The Phillies pieced together a two-out rally in the second inning to go up two runs as Tommy Joseph and Freddy Galvis doubled with an Aaron Altherr singled sandwiched in between.

Cesar Hernandez opened the third inning with a solo homer just inside the left-field foul pole.

Joseph also homered with two outs in the sixth inning to put Philadelphia ahead 4-0.

Shields has allowed 31 homers in 143 innings this season, including 22 in 75.2 innings for the White Sox. Eleven of those have come in his last four starts.

He walked none and struck out six.

“I think the only pitch I made a mistake on was that last one, the home run in the sixth inning there,” Shields said. “The ball kind of slipped out of my hand a little bit and kind of left it over the plate. Other than that I felt good with my location tonight. I was hitting my spots consistently. They were getting hits here and there. That’s part of it. One of the positives things, I didn’t walk anyone and I was getting some swings and misses. But we have to move on and move forward and build off that.”

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The White Sox didn’t have much success against Phillies starting pitcher Jerod Eickhoff, who retired the first nine batters he faced. Avisail Garcia led off the sixth inning with a single and Navarro belted a two-run homer to right to make it a 4-2 game.

Eickhoff limited the White Sox to two runs and four hits in six innings.

Garcia kept the White Sox alive with a two-out RBI single in the ninth inning. But Jeanmar Gomez retired Navarro with runners on the corners to end the threat.

“Until Dio hit the homer there wasn’t much going for us,” Ventura said. “We got one --- I think Adam was the one that breaks it up and gets it going. But (Eickoff) was tough on us. A great curveball. That’s the biggest thing that sticks out. When he got in trouble, that curveball was the pitch for us. After that, it just wasn’t a good night offensively. I don’t think we swung it that well.”

White Sox starter Miguel Gonzalez felt good in bullpen session

White Sox starter Miguel Gonzalez felt good in bullpen session

If all continues to go well, Miguel Gonzalez could pitch in a rehab start as soon as Friday.

On the 15-day disabled list with a strained right groin, the White Sox starter said he felt good during a second bullpen session on Wednesday.

Gonzalez, who is 2-6 with a 4.05 ERA in 19 games (18 starts), threw 30 pitches. He previously threw a bullpen session on Friday and felt some discomfort the following day. But Gonzalez said he has made progress since he received treatment on Saturday.

“A lot better,” Gonzalez said. “I didn’t feel anything while I was throwing my bullpen, which is great. I’m happy with the results today and come back tomorrow and we’ll see.”

Gonzalez left an Aug. 11 start at Kansas City in the bottom of the second inning. Though he wasn’t yet sure if he’d head out on a rehab assignment, Gonzalez said he was on the third day of a five-day schedule in which he was supposed to start. But it’s also possible the White Sox could have Gonzalez first throw a simulated game.

“We're going to have him go back out there again and do a little bit more, that looks more like starting in a game where he's going to throw for a little while, sit down, get back up,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “Simulate some innings and hopefully after he does that a couple time he can go out for a rehab assignment.”