It turns out a trip to Chicago to face the division-rival White Sox may be just what the Indians needed to get their postseason push back on track.
After dropping two of three to the Royals -- another American League Wild Card hopeful -- earlier in the week, the Indians have won the first two contests in their four-game set against the White Sox. With the two victories, Cleveland has now won 10 straight against the Sox, the longest such streak against Chicago in franchise history.
The Tribe will look to extend that run Saturday night and, in turn, further improve its postseason chances. Following their victory Friday, the Indians remained 1 1/2 games back of the Rays, who beat the Twins, 3-0, for the second Wild Card spot.
Cleveland on Saturday will turn to one of its hottest pitchers of late, Ubaldo Jimenez. Though Jimenez has struggled in his career against the White Sox (1-3 with a 6.10 ERA in seven starts), the right-hander has been on a roll.
Jimenez did not allow an earned run over his most recent two starts, including Monday's gem against the Royals in which he allowed just one unearned run over seven innings while striking out 10 and walking none. That outing also marked the third time in Jimenez's last four starts that he struck out 10 batters, a total he had not previously reached all season.
"The last four to five starts, he seemed like he had an extra gear," Indians manager Terry Francona said.
"Obviously he feels good," Francona added. "I think he's worked hard. You can tell when guys are limping to the finish-line. He's not."
Jimenez has emerged as the Tribe's most consistent starter in the second half during its up-and-down playoff push. After posting a 4.56 ERA over 19 first-half starts, Jimenez has put up a 1.94 mark in his nine outings since the All-Star break. He has lowered his season ERA nearly a full run in the process, dropping it from 4.56 to 3.62.
After Cleveland's 68-94 finish last year in Jimenez's first full season with the Tribe, the righty -- who made the playoffs as a member of the Rockies in 2007 and '09 -- said once again being part of a postseason race has provided some extra motivation down the stretch.
"That's everything a player wishes for," Jimenez said. "That's what you play for, to be in the postseason or at least be playing to get there. It's really fun. Every game means something. It's like you come to the stadium and you know that everything counts. You have to give it all."
Indians: Raburn staying hot despite limited role
Ryan Raburn has already made his mark on this series, going 3-for-3 with a homer and five RBIs in Thursday's series opener and following it up Friday by going 1-for-3 and driving in what proved to be the winning run on a fifth-inning RBI double.
Limited by right calf and left heel injuries over the past month, Raburn has played in just six games dating back to Aug. 13. He has managed to collect at least one hit during each of those contests, however, and is hitting .471 (8-for-17) with three home runs and 14 RBIs in that stretch.
"I'm just trying to keep [my hitting approach] as consistent as possible," Raburn said. "I try to keep the same routine, and I think the biggest emphasis when I get to the plate is that I'm not trying to get hits every time; I'm just trying to have a good at-bat and just let the results take care of themselves."
Overall, Raburn is hitting .286 with 16 homers and 52 RBIs in 75 games this season.
White Sox: Rienzo hoping to build off last outing
White Sox rookie Andre Rienzo will take the hill Saturday against the Indians, the same club against which he made his Major League debut July 30.
In his first big league start, Rienzo allowed three runs over seven innings, striking out six and walking three. Though he left the game with a 4-3 lead, he settled for a no-decision after the bullpen conceded four runs in the eighth inning en route to a 7-4 loss.
The 25-year-old righty has had mixed success in his seven starts since but is coming off arguably the best start of his young career. Rienzo on Sunday limited the Orioles to just one run off four hits over 6 2/3 innings for his second big league victory. It was a step in the right direction for Rienzo, who had allowed five earned runs in each of his previous two outings.
For the season, Rienzo is 2-1 with a 4.50 ERA in eight starts.
• Jimenez's 1.94 ERA since the All-Star break is second only to Houston's Brett Oberholtzer (1.91) among AL pitchers with more than five second-half starts.
• The Indians have outscored the White Sox, 91-49, over the teams' 15 meetings this season.
• Cleveland is 13-2 against the White Sox this season. The 13 wins are the most for the Indians against the Sox in any season since 1968, when the Tribe went 13-5 in the head-to-head series.