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Axelrod fans four over seven solid frames

As the halfway point of the season nears, the White Sox have positioned themselves to make the playoffs for the first time in four years.

After clobbering the Rangers, 19-2, Tuesday night, the White Sox are 43-37, two games ahead of the Indians in the American League Central. The White Sox have won five of their last seven games and seven of their last 10. Their postseason chances are good -- since 1995, 69 of the 102 (67.6 percent) teams entering July with a division lead made the playoffs.

"Knock on wood," said White Sox general manager Kenny Williams. "What we need to focus on, on a continuous basis, is winning the series, each and every series. It will all take care of itself at the end if we just do that. I understand we're in first place, but we're a first-place team that has nine rookies."

Seven of those nine rookies are pitchers, including Wednesday starter Dylan Axelrod. In his last start, his third of the year, he gave up two runs on six hits, striking out four and walking three, in seven innings during a 4-3 win over the Yankees on Thursday.

"This is what we are," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura. "They're coming into a situation where they have to learn on the job how to be a Major Leaguer and perform and figure all that stuff out as quickly as they can."

Axelrod will be going up against a Rangers team that leads the Majors in batting average (.284), runs (427), and slugging percentage (.459). They will send Scott Feldman, who has bounced back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen all season, to the mound for his 10th start.

After going winless in his first seven starts, Feldman has picked up wins in each of his last two. He gave up four runs on nine hits over five innings, striking out three and walking one during a 7-6 win over the A's Thursday.

Rangers: Washington confident in slumping sluggers
• Mike Napoli, the AL's starting catcher in this year's All-Star Game, went 1-for-4 in Tuesday's loss to the White Sox. He is 3-for-22 in his last six games and hitting .164 (11-for-67) in his last 19, homering just once in his last 17 games. His 83 strikeouts are the fifth-most in the AL.

Michael Young, who went 0-for-4 Tuesday, is hitless in 15 at-bats over his last five games. A seven-time All-Star, Young is hitting .200 (16-for-80) in his last 21 games and has not hit a home run in his last 50 games. Yet, manager Ron Washington maintains his confidence in Napoli and Young.

"They're the guys I've got to put the saddle on and ride," Washington said. "You hope the more they're on the field and the more they see pitching, they'll come back to what they're capable of doing, but they certainly can't do it sitting on the bench. And I know every day they go out there, there's a possibility they're going to show up and deliver for us."

• Koji Uehara, who has been on the disabled list since June 15 with a strained lat muscle, is scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Wednesday. Uehara has posted a 2.11 ERA in 20 games, striking out 22 and walking just two batters in 21 1/3 innings.

White Sox: Youkilis hits first HR since trade
Thanks to Kevin Youkilis, the White Sox got off to a fast start against the Rangers in Tuesday's series-opening victory. After leadoff man Alejandro De Aza singled to left, Youkilis hit a two-run home run off Roy Oswalt, giving the White Sox an early 2-0 lead. They scored four runs in the first and eventually won, 19-2.

"Any time you're in first place, it's a playoff-caliber team," Youkilis said of the division-leading White Sox. "So we've just got to go out and keep playing good ball and pitching and defense will do it."

That long ball marked Youkilis' first homer in eight games since being traded to the White Sox on June 24. He hit four in 42 games with the Red Sox this season.

"I don't think people really realize how big of an acquisition Kevin is," said Adam Dunn, who has hit a team-high 25 home runs. "It seems like whenever this team's in it, [The front office] is going to do everything it can to put us over the top."

Worth noting:
• Rangers rookie reliever Robbie Ross has thrown 19 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings, the fourth-longest active streak in the AL and the longest in team history since Darren O'Day's 26 1/3-inning streak in 2010. His 1.03 ERA is the third-lowest among AL relievers.

• The Rangers finished the first half of this season at 50-31, the best 81-game start in team history. It marks the fifth straight season they had a winning record at the halfway point of the year.

• The White Sox had 10 hits in 15 at-bats with runners in scoring position Tuesday, raising their Major League-best average with RISP to .303. They are hitting .359 (107-for-289) with RISP in their last 34 games. Comments