Longtime American League Central rivals will play each other six times in the final nine games of the season, beginning Tuesday, when the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins open a three-game series in Minneapolis.
As recently as the morning of Sept. 9, when first-place Cleveland held a 1 1/2-game lead over the White Sox and Twins, it had the makings of a dramatic finish to the AL Central race.
But the Guardians (86-67) put an end to that with a remarkable 16-2 run while the injury-plagued White Sox (76-77) and Twins (74-79) sputtered through sub-.500 stretches. Cleveland clinched the AL Central on Sunday when Chicago finished a dismal six-game homestand with a 4-1 loss to last-place Detroit.
Now it's a battle to finish in second place for the White Sox, who are 10 games behind the Guardians, and the third-place Twins, who are 12 games out of the top spot.
Right-hander Lance Lynn (7-6, 4.02 ERA) will start the series opener for Chicago and will be opposed by 6-foot-9 right-hander Bailey Ober (1-3, 3.71 ERA).
Lynn is 2-1 with a 4.15 ERA in seven career starts against the Twins but is 0-1 with a 9.90 ERA in two starts against them this season.
It will be Ober's 10th start of the season and third following a 3 1/2-month stint on the injured list with a groin injury. Ober is 1-1 with a 4.23 ERA in six career starts against the White Sox, including a no-decision in a 2-1 victory on April 22 when he allowed one run on five hits over five innings with six strikeouts.
Chicago, which is 41-34 on the road this season, will be glad to see some different surroundings after going 0-6 in a make-it-or-break-it homestand that featured three-game sweeps to the Guardians and the last-place Tigers.
Sunday's loss wasted another excellent performance by Dylan Cease, who allowed four hits and left with a 1-0 lead after six innings. Detroit rallied to win it with three runs off reliever Kendall Graveman in the eighth.
Interim manager Miguel Cairo didn't mince words after the game.
"Today's the worst," Cairo said of the loss. "That's not acceptable. That's not baseball. That's not what the Chicago White Sox are about. It was terrible.
"You've got to come back Tuesday, so you better bring some effort. It was kind of embarrassing."
"It was tough," Cease said. "After a disappointing season, for it to be sort of capped off by this, it's tough. We're disappointed, but we've got a lot of professional guys here, a lot of guys with a lot of big-league time. We're not sulking. We're showing up to play the rest of the games."
Minnesota comes in off a 10-3 loss Sunday to the visiting Los Angeles Angels, who scored five runs in the ninth to pull away.
One bright spot for the Twins was that 27-year-old rookie catcher/first baseman Caleb Hamilton, a 23rd-round draft pick in 2016, homered in the eighth for his first major league hit, ending an 0-for-12 drought.
"It's the big leagues. It's not easy," Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli said. "No one's handing you anything. Seeing him go out there and whack one like that and really get ahold of it, everyone enjoys those things. Every guy in the dugout, everyone in the organization, kind of waits for those types of moments so you can celebrate it with someone who's worked really hard to get to this point in his career."
--Field Level Media