White Sox-Indians Preview

The Associated Press

While Justin Masterson again finds himself in a successful stretch for the surging Cleveland Indians, Chris Sale remains a recipient of hard luck for the lowly Chicago White Sox.

The All-Star aces square off when the Indians try for an eighth consecutive victory and a four-game sweep of the visiting White Sox on Thursday.

Cleveland (59-48) tied the game with two runs in the ninth inning Wednesday, then won 6-5 on Carlos Santana's homer in the 10th. Winners in 12 of 16, the Indians last won eight straight April 3-11, 2011.

"Winning and the way you're winning breeds confidence,'' said manager Terry Francona, whose team is 7-1 in extra innings. "I always think we have a chance.''

The Indians have averaged 7.4 runs during a seven-game winning streak over the White Sox (40-65), who have dropped six in a row and 12 of 15.

"None of us have the answer for what's going on,'' losing pitcher Dylan Axelrod said. "When things are going bad, things are going bad.''

Things likely won't get an easier for the White Sox against Masterson (12-7, 3.42 ERA), who has allowed three runs, 10 hits and struck out 22 over 21 1-3 innings to go 2-0 in his last three starts. The right-hander yielded five of those hits and fanned eight in 7 2-3 innings to best Yu Darvish in Saturday's 1-0 victory over Texas.

"He's taken that title of an ace and ran with it," setup man Joe Smith told the Indians' official website. "He wants it. He wants to be in that position. That's awesome to have a guy that wants it like that."

Masterson has given up three runs over 31 innings in his last four starts versus Chicago, including two in 25 this season. He tossed a six-hitter and struck out eight in a 4-0 victory June 30 at U.S. Cellular Field, when Sale (6-10, 2.69) yielded three runs and fanned 10 in eight innings.

The left-hander is the first White Sox pitcher since Mark Buehrle in 2002 to lose four times in a season when lasting at least eight innings and giving up three or fewer earned runs. That's been the case in Sale's last two, where he's allowed three earned in 17 innings but lost both.

He gave up a run while going the distance in Saturday's 1-0 loss to Kansas City to fall to 1-8 with a 2.84 ERA in his last 10 starts.

Sale's 2.50 run-support average is the worst in the majors.

"It's not easy to try and explain it to him,'' manager Robin Ventura said. "But he's learned a tough lesson and part of baseball. He pitched great tonight, there's no question about it. You can't be perfect but he's pretty dang close.''

The worst outing of Sale's career came at Progressive Field on April 13, when he allowed eight runs, including six on homers to Mark Reynolds and Nick Swisher, in 4 1-3 innings of a 9-2 defeat.

Though Chicago traded pitchers Jake Peavy, Jesse Crain and Matt Thornton this month, it held on to veteran outfielder Alex Rios, who is 3 for 12 in this series and batting .206 with nine strikeouts in the last eight games.

He's 1 for 10 versus Masterson this season.

Swisher is batting .333 (7 for 21) in his last six versus Chicago, and 2 for his last 5 with that homer and a double against Sale.

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