Two teams expecting to vie for playoff spots out of the American League Central go head-to-head for the first time this season when the Cleveland Indians host the Chicago White Sox on Monday night in the opener of a three-game series.
The Indians (2-1) enter the early showdown tied for first place in the Central with Detroit and Minnesota after winning two of three from Kansas City. Jose Ramirez hit a pair of home runs in Sunday's 9-2 win.
The White Sox (1-2), meanwhile, lost two of three high-scoring affairs at home to the Twins. Minnesota took the series with a 14-2 clubbing on Sunday.
A pair of highly touted young right-handers will vie in the series opener, with the White Sox sending Dylan Cease (4-7, 5.79 ERA in 2019) against the Indians' Aaron Civale (3-4, 2.34).
The 24-year-old Cease made 14 starts as a rookie last season. He faced the Indians once, recording a season-best 11 strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings in a 6-5 win in September. He did not get a decision, allowing four runs.
He's hoping to improve upon what he considered to be poor numbers last year.
"I felt like last year I pretty much performed as poorly as I could," he insisted to reporters during summer camp. "Most disappointing was not having good command. I pitched a little bit in September, it got better. For most of the year, it was just one of those years it was like a grind and a fight where I felt like I was trying to find it every day and searching for it."
Civale, a 25-year-old who also made his major league debut last season, posted the better stats of the two. In fact, his 2.34 ERA in 10 starts was the lowest in the AL among rookies with 50 or more innings.
The White Sox beat up on Civale like no other team in 2019, however, going 1-1 in his two starts against them, during which he allowed seven runs (five earned) in 8 1/3 innings, an ERA of 5.40.
The Northeastern University product took a 1.82 ERA into his season finale before getting bombed by the White Sox in an 8-0 defeat, allowing four runs in 3 1/3 innings. He had earlier beaten Chicago 11-3, limiting them to one earned run (three total) in five innings.
The second-year prospects haven't faced each other in the majors. Civale insisted after his final summer camp outing that he's ready for the showdown.
"I feel good where I'm at," he boasted to reporters. "I put a lot of hard work in to get to where I am."
Luis Robert and Cesar Hernandez were among their respective team's offensive standouts in the opening series.
Robert homered for Chicago in Sunday's loss, giving him four hits in the series, including a double.
The White Sox totaled seven homers in the three games.
Hernandez had hits in all three Cleveland games, including a pair on Sunday, and scored three times.
The Indians were homerless in the series until Ramirez's two blasts in the finale.
--Field Level Media