MINNEAPOLIS -- The Chicago White Sox are surging into the season's final week, wondering why they didn't start sooner.
"Where was all this in the summer?" manager Ozzie Guillen said. "We're playing good baseball. Unfortunately, it's a little too late for that."
Indeed, the White Sox (68-87) have only a fourth-place finish to shoot for now. They began the day with a half-game edge over the Kansas City Royals in the fight to avoid the AL Central cellar. Well, if they win their last seven games and the Twins lose their last six, they would tie for third.
Vazquez (14-8) gave up only one hit over the first five innings. Jim Thome hit career home run No. 504, Darin Erstad hit one into the upper deck, and every Chicago starter reached base at least once. The White Sox had 16 hits, including three by Erstad.
"That's why you can't ever underestimate these guys and that lineup," Minnesota's Michael Cuddyer said.
Vazquez won his third straight start, breezing behind an early lead that reached 8-0 in the sixth. He surrendered a two-run homer to Jason Kubel in the bottom half, but finished seven innings with only four hits and two walks allowed. He struck out 11, giving him 57 in his last six starts.
"He's been throwing like that for a little while, and unfortunately we couldn't win more games," Guillen said. "We've just not played good enough for him to win more games."
Vazquez surpassed the 200-strikeout mark for the season, the first time he's done that since 2003, and lowered his ERA to 3.79. The White Sox extended his contract by three years through 2010 for $34.5 million, a move that has helped him focus and apparently succeed.
"I've always said that I feel comfortable with one team, because you know where you got to be," Vazquez said. "I have a lot of confidence right now."
The White Sox smashed balls all over the place against a pair of right-handers auditioning for spots next year in Minnesota's up-in-the-air rotation.
Scott Baker (9-9) lasted only two innings and left trailing 3-0 after allowing five hits and one walk with just one strikeout. Danny Richar ripped a single up the middle that glanced off the back of Baker's hand in the second. He finished the inning and had full range of motion, but manager Ron Gardenhire said he experienced some numbness and was removed for precautionary reasons.
Baker wasn't available after the game. He was traveling home to Louisiana to tend to a family issue.
Boof Bonser entered to start the third, and he was awful. Recently moved to the bullpen after a string of ugly starts, Bonser completed three innings and allowed three straight baserunners to begin the sixth.
He gave up eight hits, five runs and two walks while striking out three. Gardenhire was cranky after the game, and Bonser had was at least partially responsible for his mood.
"He just didn't get it done. Call it what you want. Guys go two weeks without pitching and do fine," Gardenhire said.
Bonser's last game was Sept. 10. This was his first career relief appearance after 47 starts.
"I haven't seen the field in a little while, but don't get me wrong: I would've loved to have thrown three zeros on the board, too," Bonser said. "I made some bad pitches, and they hit 'em. I made some good pitches, and they hit 'em. I guess it was the worst luck."
Thome was Bonser's first batter. He hit a high fly to right that sneaked inside the foul pole and a few feet over the wall, moving him into a tie with Eddie Murray for 22nd place on baseball's all-time list.
- Thome moved up a notch on another career list, too, passing Jimmie Foxx for 18th place with his 1,453rd walk.
- Kubel is batting .341 with 11 doubles, 11 walks, four homers and 19 RBI in his last 24 games.
- White Sox 3B Andy Gonzalez left the game in the seventh with a cut on his right hand that required two stitches. The wound occurred when he tagged Brian Buscher as he slid into the base. Josh Fields will move from LF and take Gonzalez's place on Sunday.