CHICAGO -- If the Indians work their way into one of two American League Wild Card spots, they may have to vote the White Sox a collective playoff share.
Terry Francona's crew picked up its 11th straight victory over the White Sox with an 8-1 win Saturday night before 28,024 at U.S. Cellular Field, raising its head-to-head record to 14-2 for the season. Seven of the consecutive victories have come in Chicago.
"We've single-handedly put them in the playoff race basically," said White Sox catcher Josh Phegley of the Indians, who are 66-66 against the rest of baseball. "I don't know. They've got our number and it's something."
With two weeks left in the regular season, this September evaluation period also has turned into a legitimate fight for the White Sox not to finish with 100 losses for the first time since dropping 106 in 1970. The White Sox (58-90) have lost five straight and are 2-14 in their last 16. They have to win five of their last 14 to avoid the 100-loss plateau.
Much like the first of this four-game set on Thursday, Cleveland (80-68) didn't get much of a challenge once it took control. Andre Rienzo (2-2) pitched out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the first by striking out Michael Brantley and getting Asdrubal Cabrera on an infield grounder, but he wasn't quite as fortunate in the fourth.
Carlos Santana, who reached base four times, singled and came home one out later on Cabrera's two-run homer. After a four-pitch walk to Jason Giambi and Yan Gomes' single in the battle between the boys from Brazil, Lonnie Chisenhall went deep for a 5-0 Cleveland lead.
Rienzo has been working longer than many starting pitchers, having pitched for Brazil during the World Baseball Classic in Spring Training, and having prepared himself early to be ready to represent his country. The right-hander has shattered his previous single-season innings high with 163 between the Minors and Majors and mentioned postgame Saturday that this season marks the first time he's pitched into September.
Fatigue, though, is not an excuse for Rienzo. In that fourth inning, he fell behind six of the nine hitters he faced. Pitching in those sorts of counts makes a strong Cleveland lineup even more dangerous.
"It's my fault if I fell behind. I fell behind and gave the hitter an opportunity to hit me hard. No excuses," said Rienzo, who walked four, fanned two and threw 44 of his 82 pitches for strikes in four-plus innings. "I feel good. I need to figure out little things to help me. If I can figure them out, I know I'll make the ballclub next year. It's simple."
"You can't get behind. It's a Major League lineup," Phegley said. "We would ourselves enjoy hitting 1-0, 2-0 most of the game. You have to get ahead. Then you can start throwing pitches that they might chase. Maybe off the plate. But when you consistently have to throw something over the plate here, they took some big swings and capitalized."
Charlie Leesman gave up two runs in relief in the sixth when he pitched to Santana with runners on second and third, two outs and the left-handed-hitting Brantley on deck, only to have Santana single past shortstop Alexei Ramirez. The ball took a bad hop over Ramirez's glove, as he played the hard-hit ball a bit off to the side.
Ubaldo Jimenez (12-9) won for the third straight start, yielding eight hits over 8 1/3 innings. Phegley topped the White Sox offense with three hits and a ninth-inning sacrifice fly, while Jimenez struck out eight and walked one.
"That was as good as I have seen [Jimenez] in the last two years. He had everything going," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura. "His ball was moving all over. It seemed like you couldn't sit on any pitch in any count. He was kind of pitching backward, a lot of offspeed stuff, good pitches though when you finally got a hitter's count."
"I was able to establish the fastball down, and even when they got runners on base, I threw everything down and I got some ground balls," Jimenez said. "Those saved me a lot of pitches."
AL Cy Young candidate Chris Sale takes the mound Sunday afternoon, opposed by Zach McAllister, as the White Sox try to salvage something in this series. If Cleveland wins, it will be their third four-game sweep of the White Sox this season and second recorded in Chicago.
Yet another black mark on this painful White Sox season.
"You catch teams at different times of the year and I know Detroit kind of did that to us," Jimenez said. "And every time we played them, I always thought we were going to find a way to win. Just sometimes those things happen."