Kids are back in school, the college football season has kicked off and the NFL campaign begins in a week.  That can only mean one thing: Playoff races in baseball are really heating up.

On second glance, playoff races on the diamonds are a bit lacking.  The AL East battle between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees is the only truly hot race going right now.  That could change this weekend in Detroit where the Tigers entertain the Chicago White Sox. 

John Danks Chicago White Sox Pitcher

Detroit brings a 5.5-game lead in the AL Central into this series with the White Sox and Cleveland Indians tied for second.  If Chicago is going to put any pressure on the Tigers, the White Sox have to win two of three in this set. Several factors favor Ozzie Guillen's club to do just that.

The White Sox enjoyed Thursday off giving Guillen's bullpen some rest and his starters will be pitching their next turns with an extra day between outings. Though Chicago lost to the Twins at home on Wednesday, the club still enjoyed a good August (16-12) after beginning the month being swept four games at home by the Yankees.  The Pale Hose have gone 16-8 since then. 

Chicago has also turned around a bad start to the season against their weekend foes.  Detroit took five of the first six meetings between the clubs with the White Sox winning four of the last six.  That includes taking two of three here in Detroit just after the All-Star Game. 

The Tigers opened the current homestand against the Royals, splitting the 4-game set with Thursday's 11-8 loss as decided -175 chalk on the MLB betting lines.  Like the White Sox, Detroit enjoyed a good August (18-10) but has dropped three of its last five contests. 

It's the fifth meeting of the campaign between the rivals with the totals pretty even at both stadiums and a slight 6-5-1 O/U overall.  They'll meet one more time a little less than two weeks from now in Chicago

Verlander Seeks 21st Win In Opener

One factor that definitely does not favor the White Sox in Friday's opener (7:05 PM ET) is Detroit ace Justin Verlander (20-5, 2.38).  The big righthander is being mentioned as a possible AL MVP in addition to the heavy favorite at this time for the Cy Young.

MLB odds for the game reflect the season Verlander is having with Detroit opening -200 but already it has moved to -215Chicago lefthander John Danks (6-9, 3.63) will oppose the Tigers with a 7-run total

Verlander has already beaten the White Sox three times in four tries this season, though he's been roughed up a bit the last two times out vs. Chicago.  The one loss came here in Detroit in mid-July, and he's won all eight of the starts since, a span that includes a win over the White Sox (July 26). 

Chicago has come home a winner in Danks' last four starts, most recently a complete game shutout for the southpaw in Seattle.  The White Sox split his two starts vs. Detroit this season. Chicago dropped Danks' first six road starts this year, but has since recovered to win three of the last four. 

Saturday on FOX, Sunday Night On ESPN

On the surface, Saturday's second game (4:10 PM) favors Chicago with Gavin Floyd (12-10, 4.36) on the hill against Brad Penny (9-10, 5.07). 

Floyd's one start vs. Detroit this season was a dandy, the 8-year veteran working the bulk of an 8-2 victory here at Comerica Park on July 15 to beat Verlander who was laying -200 money line. The White Sox have subsequently won six of Floyd's seven starts following that game and the righthander is 6-1 lifetime vs. Detroit with a 3.31 ERA. 

Penny, meanwhile, is coming off a bad outing in Minnesota that saw his season ERA cross the cinco mark, and the Tigers have won just three of his seven second half assignments.  Penny is a perfect 3-0 in his last three starts vs. the White Sox, however, two of those wins coming this season. 

ESPN2's cameras will document the series finale Sunday night (8:05 PM) with an intriguing pitching confrontation between Chicago veteran Mark Buehrle (11-6, 3.05) and Detroit's Max Scherzer (13-8, 4.52). Each will be making his fourth start of 2011 against the opposition. 

Buehrle has pitched a little better at home than on the road, but he's been pretty tough to beat no matter where he has pitched the past three months.  The White Sox have won 11 of his 15 assignments since the end of May with Buehrle crafting a 2.43 ERA.  He's 2-1 in three starts vs. the Tigers this year, the one loss a rout in April at Comerica Park

Scherzer has pitched well enough to win all three of his starts this season vs. Chicago, but he's 1-2 in those games despite a fantastic 1.64 ERA.  

Taking a Chance: Drawing a pitcher like Verlander in the opener makes it tough to win any 3-game series, especially on the road.  But that's what I expect the White Sox to do. They've been better away from home all season (37-29) and have won 14 of their 20 away contests in the second half.  A small play on Danks as the underdog in Game 1, plus Buehrle and the UNDER in Sunday's finale.