CHICAGO -- No teams know about the Tigers' recent surge to take a stranglehold on the American League Central better than the White Sox and Indians.

As Chicago and Cleveland opened a four-game set at U.S. Cellular Field on Thursday, they were separated by just a half-game in the standings. Unfortunately the second-place White Sox were nine back of Detroit and the Indians were 9 1/2 off the pace following the Tigers' dominant sweeps of each club within the past week.

Though the White Sox were able to stay within striking distance of a division title for much of the season, first baseman Paul Konerko said everyone knew all along that the team that won the AL Central would be the team that won crucial September games. And just more than a week into September, Konerko said the Tigers seem to be that team.

"All year in the Central Division, it was what team is going to come together best in the last month, and so far it was them," Konerko said. "These division things usually come down to a week in September where one team just kind of distances themselves from the others. That was them. As a player, you know when you go out there and you battle and you give it 100 percent and you just get beat, you tip your hat to them."

In their two sweeps, the Tigers scored at least eight runs in five of the six contests, while outscoring the White Sox and Indians by a total of 57-20. For White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, that stretch by the Tigers was simply a sign of things finally coming together for a team that has had the talent to play like that all season.

"That team got better. They just got hot at the right time when they needed it," Guillen said. "They needed to get hot against the White Sox and Cleveland and they did, and that's why they are almost running away with it. Their offense and their pitching staff."

Clutch hitting big reason for disappointment

CHICAGO -- Manager Ozzie Guillen knows there are players in the White Sox clubhouse that didn't live up to expectations this season, but he also knows his team still had its opportunities in spite of that.

While admitting he wasn't a "stats guy" -- evidenced by the lack of any papers or a computer on the desk in his office -- Guillen pointed to the team's inability to drive in baserunners as one of the main reasons why the White Sox have spent just three days in first place, all of which came in the first week of the season.

And even though Guillen doesn't know the specific numbers, they certainly back up his case. Entering play Thursday, the White Sox were hitting just .213 with runners in scoring position and two outs, 12th in the American League. They are also the only team in the American League with an on-base percentage less than .300 in those situations (.299).

"I think we are paying for the circumstance of not scoring from third base with less than two outs," Guillen said. "We have men on second and third and we only score two runs. When you are getting over the hump, you score two and have two more on base, you bring those guys in. We have been pretty bad about that all season long."

Youngsters earning playing time

CHICAGO -- Mathematically, the White Sox are still alive in the American League Central, but realistically, the team knows its playoff chances have all but dwindled away.

And while teams never want to start looking forward to next season, some recent callups have had success for the White Sox over the last month.

Alejandro De Aza, Dayan Viciedo and Tyler Flowers have all provided an immediate punch to the White Sox lineup, which veteran All-Star Paul Konerko said is a testament to both those players and the staff at Triple-A Charlotte.

"It's a credit to them first and also to the people that have worked with them because they're the ones getting them ready for up here," Konerko said. "But whether it's Tyler catching and hitting, De Aza, Viciedo, they look like they've kind of come up and just kind of kept going with what they had."

But manager Ozzie Guillen wouldn't go as far as to say the club's younger players have been getting more playing time recently simply to evaluate their talents for next season.

"They're playing good, that's the reason they're in the lineup," Guillen said. "They're in the lineup because I like the way they play. They're playing well, they're handling it well. They're just playing baseball."

White Sox recognize Thome's milestone

CHICAGO -- Jim Thome spent just four seasons playing in Chicago, but that was more than enough time to leave an impression in the White Sox clubhouse.

Thome, who hit his 500th home run as a member of the White Sox in 2007, was recognized prior to Thursday's game in an on-field tribute to the Indians slugger for hitting his 600th career home run on Aug. 15.

The ceremony included a brief video clip showing some of his highlights from 2006-09 when he was with the White Sox, as well as a presentation of $10,000, which Thome donated to each of the five teams he has played for. The White Sox in turn donated $5,000 each to Children's Home + Aid, a charity that Thome and Paul Konerko worked with during Thome's time with the White Sox, and the Children's Hospital of Illinois, for which Thome has a fundraiser every season.

"Jim Thome loves baseball and Jim Thome respects this game," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "I'm not just talking on the field. Off the field, I think Jim Thome is one of the best. A very classy man."

Third to first

• With 3 1/3 scoreless innings on Thursday night, the White Sox bullpen lowered its ERA to 0.45 over the last seven home games.

• Jesse Crain tied his career high for strikeouts in a season at 62, while also turning in his ninth straight scoreless appearance on Thursday.

• Paul Konerko's grand slam on Thursday snapped a 66 at-bat homerless streak and moved him past Jim Edmonds for sole possession of 52nd place on the all-time home run list with 394.