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White Sox must find way to play better against rest of division

Chicago White Sox relief pitcher Matt Thorntreacts as he wipes his face dugout during 14th inning an interleague baseball game

Chicago White Sox relief pitcher Matt Thornton reacts as he wipes his face in the dugout during the 14th inning of an interleague baseball game against the Washington Nationals in Chicago, Friday, June 24, 2011. The Nationals won 9-5. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

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Updated: October 20, 2011 12:27AM

Playtime is over for the White Sox.

It ended when A.J. Pierzynski’s bat waved at a knee-high four-seamer from Cubs closer Carlos Marmol on Sunday at Wrigley Field.

Out were the monkey bars and merry-go-round of interleague play, during which the Sox continued to puff out their chests. In is the part of the schedule where they will start dividing playoff shares or making tee times for the early fall.

Unfortunately for the Sox, who began a stretch of 19 consecutive games against division opponents Monday, the local country club has been on speed dial right after the regular season far too often in recent seasons.

‘‘It’s basic math, really,’’ reliever Matt Thornton explained. ‘‘You can’t get your butt kicked in the division and then expect to win this at the end of the year.’’

The Sox know that well. They were 8-10 last season against the Detroit Tigers, including six consecutive losses down the stretch, and 9-9 against the Cleveland Indians, who finished 69-93 in 2010.

Then there are the Minnesota Twins. Oh, those Minnesota Twins.

To say that the Twins have dominated the Sox in recent seasons is like calling Adam Dunn’s first-half performance a bump in the road. The Sox are 7-27 in their last 34 games against the Twins.

Monkey on their back

In mid-June, with six regulars
on the 15-day disabled list, the Twins basically trotted out their Class AAA Rochester team to sweep the Sox in a rain-shortened, two-game series at Target Field.

And guess who comes to town for four games this week in the final series before the All-Star break?

‘‘Absolutely that series is on our minds,’’ closer Sergio Santos said of the showdown against the Twins. ‘‘At home, this is a series we should win. We know how important it is, just as far as getting that monkey off our back that, ‘Oh, you guys can’t beat Minnesota.’

‘‘The Twins are playing good baseball, and we need to put them away. They can get as hot and streaky as anyone, and they proved it when they were something like 13 out and have now gotten back into it. We have to put them away, so we don’t have to worry about them.’’

Easier said than done when it comes to the Twins, whose dominance of the Sox never has been based on talent alone. That’s what Sox fans have a hard time getting their arms around — and what seems to frustrate them so much.

The Twins’ success against the Sox comes down to fundamentals and grinding. The Sox are inconsistent in both areas.

Ask the guys who have been through the Twins’ farm system, and the first thing they tell you is you don’t advance unless you are fundamentally sound in every way. That was fully displayed when a bunch of no-names beat the Sox twice in Minnesota in mid-June.

And Tigers, too

‘‘Yeah, it stung,’’ Santos admitted. ‘‘It was a little wake-up call that anyone can beat you, no matter who’s out there. You can’t take anything for granted. It’s about you going out there and playing baseball the right way, not looking past anybody, whether they have [Joe] Mauer or [Justin] Morneau in the lineup or not. We have to look at it as, ‘OK, let’s get this back. Let’s redeem ourselves. Let’s win that series.’  ’’

One bright spot for the Sox is that they have been playing more consistently recently, having won four of their last five series.

“The psychological thing, I don’t think it’s any more than they just have our number right now,’’ Thornton said of the Twins. ‘‘Hey, Minnesota’s got us right now. We have to start playing better against them, period.’’

And not just against the Twins. The Tigers have won 13 of their last 15 games against the Sox going back to last season.

‘‘We have a lot of division games left,’’ Thornton said. ‘‘We’ve hardly touched them at all. Coming out of interleague, we know it’s pretty simple to figure out: You beat the division or go home. Hopefully we have guys in here that aren’t ready to go home.’’

Basic math, really.

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