The Indians punched their ticket to the American League Wild Card Game on the final day of the regular season last year. Cleveland did so with a victory over the Twins, but the Tribe owed plenty of thanks to the White Sox for that moment.
Last year, the Indians enjoyed a historic showing against its AL Central rivals from Chicago, winning 17 of the 19 meetings, including a 14-game winning streak to close out the season series. Cleveland swept three four-game series against the White Sox, marking the first time in the Indians' 113-year history that they accomplished that feat against a single opponent.
Until the Tribe's showing against the South Siders last summer, no Major League team had swept three four-game sets against one opponent in the same year since the 1963 Dodgers did so against the Mets.
"When you look at the balance of a 162-game schedule, a lot of different things can happen," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said over the offseason. "I would expect us to do better against the Tigers next year, but maybe not go 17-2 against the White Sox. I don't think when you play 19 games against a team, you can expect it to be that lopsided either way."
Cleveland's 14-game winning streak against Chicago is the longest for the Indians against one team since running off 14 in a row against the Kansas City Athletics in 1960. The current streak will be on the line on Thursday, when the Indians head to U.S. Cellular Field for a four-game series against the White Sox in Chicago.
A year ago, the Indians went 9-1 in Chicago and 8-1 in Cleveland against the White Sox.
Indians right-hander Danny Salazar will be opposed by White Sox lefty John Danks in the opener of the four-game series. Both pitchers will be making their second start of the season after each took a no-decision in their initial outings of 2014.
In Cleveland's home opener on Friday, Salazar allowed two runs on seven hits in 5 2/3 innings against the Twins. The hard-throwing right-hander allowed seven hits and issued three walks, but he struck out four and limited the damage of the traffic he allowed. Last year against the White Sox, Salazar posted a 2.00 ERA in two starts with 17 strikeouts against three walks in nine innings.
"Danny's got plenty of stuff, and he doesn't back down," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "He battled his fastball command [against Minnesota]. He wasn't throwing his breaking ball really where he wanted to, so they were sitting on one pitch and he wasn't commanding it. I thought we were kind of fortunate."
The left-handed Danks turned in a 6.30 ERA in two starts against the Indians last season, giving up nine runs (seven earned) on 11 hits with seven walks and four strikeouts in 10 innings. On Saturday against the Royals, Danks surrendered three runs on five hits in seven innings, mixing in six strikeouts and four walks, but not figuring into the decision.
Indians: Morgan filling in nicely for Bourn
Indians outfielder Nyjer Morgan has filled in admirably during the absence of injured outfielder Michael Bourn (left hamstring), who is currently working through a Minor League rehab assignment.
"It feels good just being in this position, just holding down the fort for Mikey Bourn for him to get back," Morgan said. "I'm just trying to fit in and do what I can to help this team get to the playoffs."
Morgan started in center and led off in Tuesday's 8-6 victory over the Padres, contributing two RBIs, three hits and reaching base four times for Cleveland. He appeared as a defensive replacement in Game 1 of Wednesday's doubleheader, and a pinch-runner in Game 2. Through nine games, the outfielder has hit .389 (7-for-18) with three runs, four RBIs, six walks and a .520 on-base percentage.
White Sox: Abreu beginning to show power
Jose Abreu hit three home runs in 56 at-bats during Spring Training with the White Sox. He then went homerless in his first 29 regular-season at-bats until the seventh inning Tuesday, when he hit a three-run home run off Rockies reliever Chad Bettis. He then added a two-run shot in the eighth off Wilton Lopez.
The home run displays might have been missing in the spring, but the White Sox knew what they had in Abreu, a Cuban defector whom they signed for $68 million.
"You just hear it, the sound that comes off his bat," Chicago manager Robin Ventura said. "There's a few guys that have it; he's one that has it. The way it comes off his bat, the sound, the velocity it comes off his bat going the other way. In Spring Training, you see it a couple times and you take a second look real quick, making sure you're seeing the right thing. It's a gift."
• Bourn (on the 15-day disabled list with a left hamstring strain) went 0-for-4 in a Minor League rehab game with Triple-A Columbus on Tuesday. Bourn had the day off on Wednesday, but is scheduled to continue his rehab with Double-A Akron on Thursday. He could rejoin the Indians during the current road trip.
• Indians All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis -- a native of the Chicago suburb of Northbrook -- has a career slash line of .297/.388/.486 in 39 games against the White Sox. In 19 career games at U.S. Cellular Field, Kipnis has hit .420 (29-for-69) with four homers, 11 extra-base hits, 11 stolen bases, 15 runs, 20 RBIs and a 1.216 OPS.
• White Sox catcher Adrian Nieto ended up with his first Major League hit four days after he batted, thanks to a scoring change. In the fifth inning Saturday at Kansas City, Nieto hit a ball down the third-base line that was ruled an error. Major League Baseball reviewed the play at the White Sox request, and it was ruled a hit on Wednesday.