Getting crowded at the top of AL Central

For the White Sox, it's a case of what have you done lately when it comes to the red-hot Minnesota Twins.

So despite having recently won seven straight games, the Sox suddenly find themselves only a game ahead of the Twins after dropping their second straight, this one 7-1 Friday night against Oakland.

"Good teams shut it down right away and starting another winning streak," manager Ozzie Guillen said. "That's our expectation [Saturday]."

And former Athletic Nick Swisher chimed in: "That's what tomorrow's for."

While statistically the Sox and A's have the best two pitching staffs in baseball, the A's were far superior in this game.

The Sox's offense, which hit .301 in June, was baffled by Joe Blanton, who came into the game with a 4-11 record and 4.97 ERA but lasted seven innings. He scattered six hits, only one of them for extra bases, and left with a 6-1 lead.

Meanwhile, Sox starter Mark Buehrle (6-7) pitched a dud in front of a 4th of July fireworks night crowd of 29,600 at U.S. Cellular Field and against a team that looked more like a Triple-A lineup because of injuries.

"They have a good young team," Buehrle said. "Ask someone on the street and they wouldn't know who they were. To pitch as badly as I did and go up against a good staff like they have, it's tough to come back. From the first inning on, I just didn't have my stuff. I didn't get ahead in the count, everything was up in the zone."

Buehrle, who was 4-0 with a skimpy 1.60 ERA in June, knew early that he was in trouble, walking leadoff hitter Mark Ellis. Through five innings, he had thrown 91 pitches and was clinging to a 2-1 lead, which could have been worse if right fielder Jermaine Dye had not gunned down Ellis at home.

In the fourth, the A's scored on Emil Brown's single and Jack Cust's homer. Despite another pair of hits, Buehrle escaped more trouble when he struck out Jack Hannahan and Ellis.

After the Sox halved the lead in the fourth inning on a walk to Carlos Quentin and a Thome double, the A's were back with another pair in the sixth as they finished Buehrle's night.

Carlos Gonzalez scored the first run on a Hannahan double and then former White Sox Ryan Sweeney singled home another after an intentional walk to Ellis. Octavio Dotel had to finish the inning for Buehrle, who didn't pitch at least six full innings for the first time since May 27.

It worsened when the A's scored two more off Nick Masset in the seventh inning and one more off Adam Russell in the ninth.

"I was due for a bad start and hopefully this is it," said Buehrle, who is 3-11 lifetime against Oakland. "It could have been even worse. It was a bad day at the office."

So now the Sox have a chance to fall out of sole possession of first place in the AL Central for the first time since May 16, especially if they play again like they did Friday.

"It was a pretty ugly game, no matter how you look at it," Guillen said.

dvandyck@tribune.com

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