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White Sox, Tigers battle to avoid the cellar

DETROIT -- The Chicago White Sox seemed destined for a last-place finish after losing 13 of their first 14 games following the All-Star break. The fading and depleted Detroit Tigers may allow them to avoid that fate.

The White Sox trail the fourth-place Tigers by just two games in the American League Central entering their four-game series at Comerica Park that begins Thursday afternoon.

Chicago went into full rebuild mode last offseason, dealing veterans -- including ace Chris Sale -- for prospects. Detroit took the same approach this summer after dropping out of playoff contention.

Some of those highly regarded young players are making the White Sox (58-87) a little more competitive down the stretch. They have won four of their past five games.

"We never give up. We always keep fighting," White Sox outfielder Avisail Garcia told the Chicago Tribune. "We try to do our best and score some runs for our pitchers so we can win more games."

James Shields, one of the veterans the White Sox were unable to deal, start the series opener Thursday.

He enjoyed his best outing of the season in his last start. The 35-year-old right-hander limited San Francisco to one run on two hits in seven innings during a 13-1 White Sox victory on Saturday.

Shields (3-6, 5.40 ERA) has allowed 23 home runs in 98 1/3 innings this season but held the Giants scoreless until he gave up a seventh-inning solo shot to Nick Hundley.

"My fastball location was pretty much on point," Shields said. "I got behind the count on a few hitters but overall didn't really leave anything over the plate besides the home run. I got a ton of ground balls. That's what I wanted to do."

Shields is 8-8 with a 4.37 ERA in 24 career starts against Detroit. He won his only start against the Tigers this season, allowing one run, two hits and five walks while striking out five in 5 1/3 innings on April 6.

Detroit, which opens an 11-game homestand, has lost five straight and 11 of its past 13. The Tigers (60-85) scored just three runs while getting swept by the Cleveland Indians in a three-game series this week. That allowed the Indians to set an American League record with 21 consecutive victories.

The frustration is mounting, as manager Brad Ausmus and catcher James McCann were ejected Wednesday for arguing balls and strikes in the Tigers' 5-3 loss.

"We felt like there was a discrepancy in the strike zone between the two teams early in the game," Ausmus said. "It's hard enough to beat the Indians, all things being equal, and we felt like we weren't getting some calls that they were."

The Tigers have not strung together two victories since winning four straight at the beginning of August.

"We're a young team battling, and games aren't always going our way right now," Detroit catcher John Hicks said. "We're just trying to get better and trying to bond as a team. I think we're getting there. We're getting better, and hopefully we can put some wins together to finish the season."

Tigers rookie left-hander Chad Bell (0-2, 5.79 ERA) will make his third straight start on Thursday. Bell was mainly used as a long reliever until Justin Verlander was dealt to Houston and Michael Fulmer and Jordan Zimmermann sustained injuries.

Bell gave up five runs in four innings to the Indians in his first start this month. The next outing went a little smoother, as he allowed two runs on five hits in 4 2/3 innings while getting a no-decision against the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday.

The White Sox scored three runs in 2 1/3 innings against Bell on May 26, the only time he faced them.

Detroit outfielder Mikie Mahtook is expected to return sometime during the series after missing the past five games with a groin injury.

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