The Rays and White Sox are two teams seemingly headed in opposite directions, and the schedule looks prepared to keep it that way.
Tampa Bay has won eight of its last 11 games and will play its next 10 in the comfort of Tropicana Field, beginning Friday. Chicago, despite winning its series at home against Baltimore, has lost six of its last eight games and will play nine of its next 10 games on the road heading into the All-Star break (the lone exception being a makeup game against the Cubs on Monday).
The Rays will host the White Sox, Twins and Astros during the homestand, all of whom are under .500.
"A lot of good things are happening for us right now, but we've got to do it on the field," manager Joe Maddon said. "Theory needs to be reality, and then all of a sudden it's a good thing. So we're trying to make theory and reality come together."
The White Sox got off to their worst 81-game start since 1998, and to make matters worse, they will now try to engineer wins without team captain Paul Konerko (lower back strain) and their best relief pitcher, Jesse Crain (right shoulder strain), as both were placed on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday.
Chicago has now had 10 players hit the disabled list this season, but Konerko doesn't see it as bad luck.
"We've had some guys nicked up here and there, and there was a little stretch early, but ... I think if you look at any other team, you'd find the same situations," Konerko said. "I don't look at it like that's been the biggest problem for us this year."
The White Sox will send Dylan Axelrod to the mound to face the Rays' Jeremy Hellickson. The White Sox dealt Hellickson one of his three losses this season on April 25 in Chicago. In the loss, Hellickson walked a season-high four batters and threw a season-high 111 pitches over six innings.
Axelrod has never faced the Rays as a starter.
Rays: Bullpen transformation
Maddon often points to several individual improvements in his bullpen over the last month in explaining that group's big turnaround. For example, closer Fernando Rodney has not blown a save since May 25. Then there is Alex Torres, who has given up just one earned run in 13 appearances.
Collectively, the Rays' relievers have built a remarkable turnaround. Through 49 games, the Rays' bullpen had the worst ERA in Major League Baseball. In its next 36 games, however, Maddon's bullpen had the second best ERA in the Majors at 2.30. The bullpen also ranked second in strikeouts (130) and opponents' batting average (.183) through Wednesday.
White Sox: Beckham turning back the clock
Second baseman Gordon Beckham has been back in manager Robin Ventura's lineup for a month since breaking a bone in his left hand. He made a leaping catch to rob Chris Dickerson of a hit in the eighth inning Thursday and hit his first home run of the season in a losing effort against Baltimore on Wednesday.
Although he has played just 35 games this season, Beckham is hitting .322 and has hit safely in 20 of 28 games since returning from the disabled list.
Beckham's numbers have dipped since he was a Rookie of the Year candidate in 2009, but Ventura feels he's returning to the player he once was.
"He's earned it," Ventura said. "It's for him to hold onto and be proud of. But I'm proud of him to do that, because it isn't easy to do. I've seen a lot of guys over the years not make it back from having a good start, and then struggling and then not being able to adapt and get better after that."
• Rays first baseman James Loney extended his hitting streak to 15 games when he singled in the fourth inning of Thursday's game. The streak matches Loney's career high, which opened the 2008 season.
• Axelrod will be making his first appearance at Tropicana Field. He faced Tampa Bay once as a reliever on Sept. 29, 2012, allowing two earned runs over 1 2/3 innings in a game the White Sox lost, 10-4.
Sam Strong is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.