If not for the White Sox, it’s very probable Cleveland would not be in the hunt for an American League playoff spot right now.
A five-run fourth inning that included two home runs was more than enough for the Indians in an 8-1 victory Saturday at U.S. Cellular Field. It was Cleveland’s 11th consecutive win against the Sox, who fell to 2-14 in their past 16 games overall.
Chicago (58-90) also dropped to 2-14 against the Indians this season, the most losses the White Sox have had against them since 1952. Cleveland (80-68) is 66-66 against the rest of the major leagues.
“We’ve single-handedly put them in the playoff race basically,” catcher Josh Phegley said. “I don’t know. They’ve got our number and it’s something.”
Righthander Ubaldo Jimenez (12-9) stymied the White Sox in an efficient performance highlighted by eight strikeouts. He scattered eight hits -- seven singles -- with one walk in falling two outs shy of his first complete game in two years.
Cleveland (80-68) attacked early against Andre Rienzo (2-2), sandwiching two bloop singles around a walk to load the bases with one out in the first. But Rienzo struck out Michael Bradley then got Asdrubal Cabrera out at first to escape without allowing a run.
Cabrera got the better of Rienzo the next time with a two-run home run to right-center, giving Cleveland a 2-0 lead in the fourth.
The damage wasn’t over. After Cabrera’s homer, Rienzo walked Jason Giambi and gave up a single to Yan Gomes, setting the stage for Lonnie Chisenhall.
Chisenhall responded with a three-run blast that landed in nearly the same place as Cabrera’s, just over the “Patio” sign in right-center.
Michael Bourn followed with a single to become the fifth consecutive hitter to reach against Rienzo. That streak ended on a Nick Swisher fly out to center.
“I need to figure out to throw the ball low,” Rienzo said. “If I throw the ball up, the ball will go flying.”
Fatigue could be an issue for Rienzo, who started the year representing his native Brazil in the World Baseball Classic in Japan prior to spring training. But he wasn’t looking to make excuses after the second-shortest outing of his rookie season.
“I never play in September before,” he said. “But I don’t feel tired. 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.”
Rienzo gave up five runs on seven hits with four walks and two strikeouts in four-plus innings. It came two starts after he allowed five runs on five hits in only three innings at Boston on Sept. 1.
“He’s pitching at 1-0, 2-0 all the time and so it seems like every hitter is in a good hitter’s count pretty much the whole night,” manager Robin Ventura said. “He’s walking leadoff guys and you can’t do that without getting punished for it and that’s what that team does. They can whittle you down and make you throw strikes and make you pay for it when you put guys on.”
The Sox managed some hits off Jimenez, but did little to threaten him or get him out of his rhythm. Their first five hits were singles, two coming on bloops and another on a bunt.
Chicago didn’t get a runner past second against Jimenez. Only once had a runner even reached second before Josh Phegley hit a soft pop fly that landed for a double down the left-field line with two outs in the seventh.
He was stranded at second just as he was in the third when he and Marcus Semien opened with back-to-back singles. But Jimenez got out of that jam by striking out DeAza and Alexei Ramirez around a pop out from Gordon Beckham.
The Sox finally did chase Jimenez but not until there was one out in the ninth and the game already decided. Back-to-back singles by Avisail Garcia and Conor Gillaspie ended Jimenez’s night.
Dayan Viciedo greeted reliever Chen-Chang Lee with a single to load the bases. Phegley’s sacrifice fly scored Garcia so Chicago could avoid the shutout.