White Sox turn Indians into contenders

CHICAGO -- The joke is that the Chicago White Sox are so bad that they make everybody else look like a playoff contender.

The reality is that they actually have made a contender out of the Cleveland Indians.

With an 8-1 victory Saturday, the Indians improved to 81-68 on the season and a whopping 14-2 against the White Sox. That means when you take out Cleveland’s games against the White Sox, the Indians are a pedestrian 67-66 against the rest of the league.

“We’ve single-handedly put them in the playoff race, basically,” White Sox rookie catcher Josh Phegley said. “I don’t know, they’ve got our number and it’s either a close game or a big game. But we’ve got more shots at them and we are going to try to get them.”

The victory means the Indians continue to breathe down the necks of the American League wild-card leaders Tampa Bay Rays and the Texas Rangers. And the Indians are five games behind the Detroit Tigers in the American League Central standings with two weeks left in the season.

More bad news for the wild-card leaders is that the Indians still have three more games remaining against the White Sox, one on Sunday and then Sept. 24-25 in Cleveland.

Despite not yet playing the full season series, the White Sox’s 14 defeats are their most against the Indians since 1952, when they were 8-14.

And by losing 14 of their last 16 games overall, the White Sox are 58-90, the first time they have been 32 games under .500 since they finished the 1976 season with a 64-97 record.

On Saturday they tried stopping the Indians with rookie pitcher Andre Rienzo, who was little more than a speed bump with shaky control.

“He’s pitching at 1-0, 2-0, all the time, and so it seems like every hitter is in a good hitter’s count pretty much the whole night,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “He’s walking leadoff guys, and you can’t do that without getting punished for it. And that’s what that team does. They can whittle you down and make you throw strikes and make you pay for it when you put guys on.”

After pitching in the World Baseball Classic this spring for his native Brazil and then throwing 113 innings at Triple-A Charlotte before his 50 with the White Sox, the 25-year-old pitching prospect appears to have little left in the tank.

“It’s the first time I play ball in September; I never play September before,” Rienzo said. “But I don’t feel tired. I feel good. I need to figure out little things to help me. If I can figure them out, I know I’ll make the ballclub next year. It’s simple.”

What isn’t so simple is getting the White Sox out of their funk. And having the Indians in town sure isn’t doing anything for their self-esteem.

“It becomes difficult,” Ventura said. “It’s about winning games and right now we’re not going to the playoffs. That’s not the fun part. However, there are worse jobs you could be doing right now. There’s a lot worse things that could be going on.”

“I think in everything you have to have the ability to overcome that kind of stuff and realize you’re lucky and fortunate to be doing what you’re doing and find a way to enjoy it,” he said. “I think everybody has that in their own personality.”