It's would not be farfetched to say the White Sox played an important role helping Cleveland clinch its first playoff berth since 2007 a year ago.
While the White Sox struggled through their worst season in 33 years, the Indians clinched the top wild card spot at the end of the regular season, holding off both the Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers before ultimately falling to the Rays in the single-elimination wild card game.
This year, most projection models have the Indians coming nowhere near last season's 92-win mark. Most Vegas books had their over/under win total set at 80.5 and FanGraphs projects them to finish 83-79.
There are several factors that go into the Indians' expected regression — most notably the absence of Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir from their rotation. However, assuming the Indians don't have the same type of success against the White Sox in 2014 as they had in 2013 should decrease their win total by a few games alone.
Here's a snapshot of how the White Sox fared against the Indians in 2013:
- 2-17 record;
- Three losses in which the White Sox had a Win Probability above 90 percent in the eight inning or later;
- Seven losses in which they had a Win Probability of 60 percent or higher in the seventh inning or later;
- A run differential of minus-61 (minus-64 against the rest of the league combined).
Had the White Sox won just one or two more of those games last season, the Indians likely wouldn't have made the playoffs. Jerry Reinsdorf is still waiting for the check containing his playoff share, Cleveland.
Even if the Indians project to be a whole lot better than the White Sox in 2014 — and nobody's questioning that the Tribe are a better team at the moment — that kind of dominance isn't likely to carry over from one year to the next.
Despite the absence of Jimenez and Kazmir, this year's rendition of the Indians doesn't look a whole lot different than the one the White Sox were slaughtered by a year ago.
The biggest positional change is Carlos Santana's surprising move from catcher to third base. Advanced fielding stats are tough to gauge this early in the season, but Santana has committed just one error in 17 chances thus far.
An injured hamstring has delayed Michael Bourn's season debut — although he could debut as early as Sunday — and in his stead you'll find the re-emergence of Nyjer Morgan, who's gotten off to an impressive start, hitting .389 with a .520 on-base clip and six walks in his first 27 plate appearances. Last season's White Sox-killer, the ageless Jason Giambi, is also on the disabled list.
In the rotation, the Indians replaced Jimenez and Kazmir with Danny Salazar, who posted an ERA+ of 121 in 10 starts down the stretch last year, and Carlos Carrasco. The White Sox will see Salazar and Carrasco on Thursday and Friday, respectively, followed by staff ace Justin Masterson on Saturday and Corey Kluber on Sunday. Here's how the series is projected to stack up:
- Thursday: Danny Salazar vs. John Danks
- Friday: Carlos Carrasco vs. Chris Sale
- Saturday: Justin Masterson vs. Felipe Paulino
- Sunday: Corey Kluber vs. Jose Quintana
Today's starter, Salazar, actually made two of his 10 starts down the stretch in 2013 against the White Sox, both in September. In his first outing (I don't know if you're going to believe this, but Cleveland won), Salazar went 3.2 innings and struck out nine before being replaced because of a low pitch limit. The second time around two weeks later, he struck out eight and allowed two earned runs in 5.2 innings, picking up his second major league victory.
Danks, on the other hand, will be making his 19th career start against the Indians, posting a 5.07 ERA lifetime against the Tribe in 103 innings pitched. Against current Cleveland regulars, second baseman Jason Kipnis (.385 batting average, one home run in 13 at-bats) and first baseman Nick Swisher (.333, two home runs in 18 at-bats) have fared the best. Ryan Raburn — the perpetual White Sox-thrasher — will also start the opener in left field. Raburn has a .314 batting average and three home runs in 35 career at-bats against Danks and has a .299/.348/.534 career mark in 94 games against the White Sox.
- Eaton – CF
- Semien – 2B
- Gillaspie – 3B
- Abreu - 1B
- Dunn – DH
- Viciedo - RF
- De Aza – LF
- Ramirez – SS
- Nieto – C
SP – Danks
- Asdrubal Cabrera – SS
- Nick Swisher – 1B
- Jason Kipnis – 2B
- Carlos Santana – DH
- Ryan Raburn – LF
- Michael Brantley – CF
- Jan Gomes – C
- Mike Aviles – 3B
- David Murphy – RF
SP – Danny Salazar
Where to Watch:
Today’s game will be broadcast on CSN and SportsTime Ohio. 7:10 Central start time.