The Cleveland Indians weren't able to make any wild-card progress in a series against the top team in the AL Central, so the immediate task now shifts to trying to beat maybe the best pitcher in the division.
Chris Sale opens a three-game series Friday night at Progressive Field, where the Chicago White Sox ace has experienced his share of struggles.
The Indians (72-73) fell 8-4 Thursday to Kansas City, settling for a four-game split and again dipping below .500. They've evened their record three times in the past six games, only to lose the follow-up effort. Cleveland enters the weekend series four games back of Houston for the second wild card.
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Sale (12-9, 3.55 ERA) was limited to a career-low three innings for the third time in Sunday's 7-0 home loss to Minnesota. The left-hander gave up six runs and nine hits while dropping his second straight start. It wasn't for a lack of drive as Chicago's season winds down without a playoff appearance for the seventh straight year.
"We still have a job to do, and that's come in and compete," Sale told MLB's official website. "It's all we can do at this point. We are just playing for pride. Just suck it up and play as hard as you can."
While his ERA is the highest of his career and figures to stay that way, his 2.53 fielding-independent pitching is his lowest. It's also the lowest in the AL and bettered only by Clayton Kershaw and Jake Arrieta. His 250 strikeouts, surpassed only by Kershaw, are a career high and could climb into the top 10 single-season marks of the millennium before the season ends. His .327 strikeouts per batter faced ranks sixth dating to 2000.
The 26-year-old hasn't displayed his traditional level of dominance in five career starts in Cleveland, going 2-2 with a 5.28 ERA. Among AL venues, he's only been worse as a starter at Fenway Park.
Ryan Raburn is 10 for 33 with four home runs, joining Victor Martinez as the only player with more than three off Sale. Michael Brantley is 4 for 29 with 12 strikeouts in their matchups, as well as 0 for 11 in the last three games.
Lonnie Chisenhall is in a more sustained slump with a .150 average over his last 14 games, and he's 1 for 9 against Sale.
Cleveland counters with Cody Anderson, who's been impressive in his return from the disabled list.
In four starts back from an oblique strain, Anderson (4-3, 3.68) is 2-0 with a 2.35 ERA and .184 opponent batting average and his first set of back-to-back wins.
Half of the 14 hits he's allowed in those 23 innings, however, came in Sunday's 7-2 home victory over Detroit. The right-hander still limited the Tigers to two runs in 5 2-3 innings to earn his second straight victory a day before his 25th birthday.
"(Anderson) made some adjustments and got the ball down and changed speeds and really pitched pretty well," manager Terry Francona said, "He doesn't really get flustered."
The rookie has held truer to that assessment on the road with a 2-2 record and 2.58 ERA in six starts as opposed to 2-1 with a 4.96 mark in six at home.
After Thursday's 4-2 loss, the White Sox (69-76) settled for a four-game split with Oakland to conclude a 4-6 homestand that began with losses in two of three to the Indians. In Cleveland, however, the White Sox have won four straight and five of six this season. They're also embarking on an 11-game trip with a four-game road winning streak.
Melky Cabrera is batting .524 in his last five games and .424 in his last 15 at Progressive.