News and notes from baseball as pennant races get tight

The National League East is all but over. The other five division championships have boiled down to a two-team race with the exception of the American League Central. The Detroit Tigers lead the surprise Cleveland Indians, but how about the Chicago White Sox, the third place team that started a four-game series Monday in Baltimore?

The White Sox are defined by inconsistent play this season, but they are coming off a weekend sweep in Minnesota, a team they were 8-28 against in the previous 36 games. The White Sox haven’t been at .500 since April 15, but in the AL Central, anything’s possible.

The White Sox have 17 games left with Detroit and Cleveland, and their schedule appears to be soft. Of their remaining 49 games, they play 35 against teams with losing records. The White Sox got encouraging news over the weekend with a strong pitching performance from Jake Peavy, and outfielder Alex Rios, their super-expensive outfielder, is showing signs of breaking out of a season-long slump. Former Nationals slugger Adam Dunn hasn’t shown any signs of hitting, but the White Sox might make Paul Konerko their designated hitter and use Brent Lillebridge at first base.

* The Philadelphia Phillies made a statement over the weekend by beating the San Francisco Giants three of four in San Francisco. And, the amazing thing is that they did it without their ace, Roy Halladay, pitching.

* Catcher and DH Jorge Posada of the New York Yankees sat out Sunday night’s game versus Boston, and it begs the question about how much Posada will be used in the final two months. With Alex Rodriguez coming back from injury, he’ll likely be the DH with hot-hitting Eric Chavez the third baseman.

* Atlanta Braves second baseman Dan Uggla went into Monday night’s game with a 28-game hitting streak that helped boost his average to .220. How bad was Uggla hitting before the streak?

* With the Pittsburgh Pirates falling out contention, the Arizona Diamondbacks are the feel-good story in baseball. The Diamondbacks are among the NL leaders in runs scored, and so their fate depends on how well they pitch. They have two series left with the Giants.

* If the Minnesota Twins’ Jim Thome doesn’t get his 600th home run at home this week versus Boston, Thome will have a chance to get the history-making hit in Cleveland, the team that gave him his start. When Thome goes into the Hall of Fame, he’ll likely go in as a Cleveland Indian.

* How about the Los Angeles Angels? Most people thought that when the Texas Rangers added former Oriole Koji Uehara and Mike Adams to their bullpen that they would run away with the AL West. But, the Angels’ pitching has been incredible with Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana at the top. Two questions regarding the Angels: Do they have enough at the back end of the rotation, and will Bobby Abreu, Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter hit well enough to give the offense a boost?

* The St. Louis Cardinals had a big series sweep against the Florida Marlins over the weekend to stay within three games of the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central. Tuesday night, the Cardinals begin a three-game series in St. Louis against the Brewers, a team that can’t win on the road. Most teams have a difficult time winning on the road, but the Brewers are 41-15 at home and 24-35 on the road. Explain that one.