Just a week ago, the Cleveland Indians were struggling. They were outscored, 34-6, in a three-game sweep against the Athletics, putting them 10 1/2 games out of first place in the American League Central and six games under .500 for the second time this season.
The Indians have since turned things around and are starting to resemble the team everybody expected to compete for a division title after earning a Wild Card berth last season. Cleveland is 5-2 in its last seven games, including a sweep of the division-leading Tigers, and will look to keep it going when it visits Chicago for a three-game series starting Wednesday.
"Before we went [into] the Detroit series, I'd kind of been wondering: last year we had a lot of late-inning heroics, some really grinding wins and this year we hadn't really had too many of those," said Justin Masterson, who will start the second game on Tuesday. "And it's been tremendous to see us grinding out against Detroit and getting some really good wins and carry that on."
The Indians will take on a White Sox club that's found a way to hang around in a highly competitive American League. Chicago has sustained injuries to key members of the lineup (Gordon Beckham, Conor Gillaspie and most recently, Jose Abreu) and starting rotation (Chris Sale, Felipe Paulino). Detroit still has the largest division lead in baseball, but with June not yet here, many teams still have a shot of making noise in a pennant race.
"I think the American League, it's got a lot of teams that the jury's still out on," said White Sox captain Paul Konerko. "There's a lot of baseball to be played and I don't think there's any team out there right now that is a for-sure winner or loser. It seems like ours, if we keep holding our head above water and then catch fire, we could find ourselves in late August, early September in the race somewhere."
The Tribe beat up the White Sox last year, going 17-2 against their division rivals. It was a major reason the Indians were able to finish 92-70 and earn a Wild Card berth. That sort of dominance over the White Sox was going to be difficult to repeat and has proven so thus far. Chicago is 4-3 against the Indians this year, taking three of four at home in April while dropping two of three in Cleveland earlier this month.
Either way, things seem to be finally trending the right way for the Tribe, who will send righty Josh Tomlin to the mound. Tomlin last started on May 17 against the A's, allowing three runs in six innings. He picked up the win in relief in Cleveland's 13-inning victory over Detroit on Wednesday with three innings of one-run ball.
The White Sox will counter with lefty Jose Quintana, who put together a strong outing his last time out. He allowed three runs on eight hits in 7 1/3 innings Wednesday in Kansas City. Quintana might be taking on a more-confident Tribe team than the one he saw on April 13, when he held the Indians to one run in six innings, but that's not something the players can afford to dwell on.
"You've got to worry about yourself and executing what you can control. I think we let the media and even the fans really worry about who's coming into town and what they're throwing at us," Sox center fielder Adam Eaton said. "There's 162 of these games. If we worried about the stresses of who's coming to town and what the record is, we'd be exhausted by the second month."
Indians: Cabrera expected back in lineup
Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera has missed four straight starts with injuries to his right big toe and left knee, but is expected back for Monday's series opener with the Sox.
Cabrera was hit by a fastball in the left kneecap against the Tigers and also fouled a pitch off his toe. He pinch-hit and struck out in the eighth inning on Sunday.
"It looks much better right now," Cabrera said of his knee. "My toe is a little worse."
White Sox: Ventura sticking with Belisario as closer
White Sox manager Robin Ventura said before Sunday's series finale with the Yankees he was sticking with Ronald Belisario as his closer despite the righty's struggles with the role.
Since Matt Lindstrom, the team's original closer, went down with an ankle injury that will shelve him for three months, Belisario has been shaky in the ninth inning. Belisario picked up a pair of saves last week in Kansas City, but allowed three runs (two earned) over the two appearances, both times letting a multiple-run lead dwindle to one. He then blew the save on Saturday against the Yankees by allowing three runs in the ninth as the White Sox eventually lost 4-3 in 10 innings.
Belisario wasn't hit all that hard by the Yankees and had been performing well in a setup role prior to Lindstrom's injury. But will young guys such as Daniel Webb and Jake Petricka get a chance to close should Belisario continue to struggle?
If they get there, yeah," Ventura said. "They have done it in the Minor Leagues, but right now, Beli is the guy."
• Chicago is 14-10 against teams at or above .500 compared with 11-17 against teams with a losing record, which includes the Indians.
• Right-hander Javy Guerra tossed two innings in his White Sox debut on Sunday. He allowed an earned run on two hits and struck out three, tying a career high.
• White Sox third baseman Gillaspie has hit safely in 10 of his last 11 games (.372) and 28 of 31 overall.
• Cleveland is 15-11 (.577) at home, the second-best mark in the American League, but just 9-16 (.360) on the road.
• The Indians will play their third straight day game on Monday. Entering Monday, 22 of the Tribe's 51 contests have been day games, second most in the Majors.
Joe Popely is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.