The Cleveland Indians are no strangers to starting strong and being underappreciated.
Coming off a series sweep of the reigning AL Central champions, the first-place Indians try for a fourth consecutive victory Friday night in the opener of a weekend road set with the Chicago White Sox.
A year ago, Cleveland was 30-17 and owned a 5 1/2-game lead in the Central. The Indians faltered down the stretch and Detroit got hot, leaving many to label the Tigers as the favorites to repeat as division champions.
If that's to happen, the Tigers must again chase down the Indians, who allowed six runs while sweeping a three-game home set from Detroit. Justin Masterson outpitched Justin Verlander in Thursday's 2-1 victory.
Cleveland (26-18), which has won eight of 10, has a 3 1/2-game lead over Chicago in the Central.
"Nothing that these guys do surprises me," manager Manny Acta told the Indians' official website. "I believe in these guys. We've played good ball. We've been doing that. We haven't played our best baseball yet, but we're playing good baseball."
Though the Indians are 4-5 against the White Sox (23-22) this season, they've won six of nine at U.S Cellular Field, including two of three May 1-3.
Suburban Chicago native Jason Kipnis, who had four hits in the Tigers' series, is 8 for 18 with a homer and five RBIs in five games at Chicago.
Scheduled starter Jeanmar Gomez (3-2, 3.19 ERA) fell to 2-1 with a 5.30 ERA in three starts against the White Sox after he allowed a season-high eight runs and four walks in 6 2-3 innings of an 8-1 loss May 9.
Since that outing, however, the right-hander has yielded an unearned run and six hits over 13 1-3 innings while going 1-0 in two starts. Gomez gave up three hits in 6 1-3 of a 2-0 win over Miami on Saturday.
"It's been part of the maturation process," Acta said. "He doesn't let things get to him anymore. He put (the loss to Chicago) behind him pretty quick."
Chicago leadoff hitter Alejandro De Aza is 3 for 7 against Gomez, and hit a grand slam in Thursday's 11-8 win over Minnesota. Paul Konerko hit his 10th homer and A.J. Pierzynski his seventh as the White Sox went deep five times to win for the sixth time in seven games.
Chicago is above .500 for the first time since it was 12-11 on May 1.
Konerko is 19 for 34 (.559) with four home runs and nine RBIs during a 10-game hitting streak that was interrupted when he missed two contests after being hit in the face with a pitch last Friday against the Cubs. However, he's 0 for 14 with four strikeouts in his last four home games versus Cleveland.
Replacing the injured John Danks, Chicago's Jose Quintana (0-0, 0.00) will face Cleveland for the second time in his first career start Friday.
The left-hander, who was 1-3 with a 2.77 ERA in nine starts at Double-A Birmingham, allowed one hit in 5 2-3 scoreless innings of an 8-6 loss at Cleveland in the opener of a day-night doubleheader May 7.
"He was coming in to limit the damage and did more than that. He did great," manager Robin Ventura told the White Sox's official website. "He was keeping them off-balance, and he was composed."
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