CHICAGO -- Indians manager Manny Acta has warned against focusing too much on the Tigers as Cleveland's main competition for the American League Central. Earlier this week, Acta reminded reporters that it is the White Sox who are on the Tribe's heels.
On Friday night, the Indians were issued a reminder as well in a 9-3 loss to Chicago at U.S. Cellular Field. Right-hander Jeanmar Gomez struggled with his command, the Tribe's lineup labored against rookie Jose Quintana and the White Sox put their power on display, leading to Cleveland's third loss in the past 11 games.
The Indians are not expecting the White Sox to go away anytime soon.
"We're not ignoring them," Acta said. "I feel like they have the deepest pitching staff -- probably the best pitching staff overall -- in our division for the three years that I've been here. Pitching is a big part of the game. They do have a very good ballclub.
"Our division is balanced. I have never taken them for granted. They have the team to win."
Fresh off a sweep of the Tigers at home, the American League Central-leading Indians (26-19) saw their lead over the second-place White Sox (24-22) trimmed to 2 1/2 games. There are still far too many games left on the schedule to declare any a team a favorite, but Chicago is doing what it can to show it is more than a two-horse race in the division.
Coming into this season, most prognosticators pegged Detroit as the front-runner for this year's Central crown. The Tigers won the division by a 15-game margin over the Tribe last season and then went spending over the winter, reeling in prized free-agent slugger Prince Fielder. Chicago was not expected to make much noise.
And, yet, the White Sox sit within striking distance of the Indians nearly two months into the season.
"We have a good feeling," White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "There's a positive vibe in here and guys want to do well. Guys are trying to do well and guys are working their tails off to do well. We know we're in for a dogfight, but at the end of the day, we like where we're at. We like our chances."
"It was good what we did against Detroit at home," Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis said. "But now we have to turn our focus to these guys. These guys are closer in the division than Detroit is right now. So it's not like, 'Oh, we beat Detroit. We did it.' It's more like, 'OK, now it's time for the White Sox.' We know that. This team is good about that.
"We had the right mind-set going into this series. We just didn't come up with big hits tonight."
The big hits belonged to the South Siders.
Adam Dunn clubbed his 15th home run in the first inning -- a two-run blast to center field -- and Pierzynski added a solo shot in the second, putting Gomez in a quick 3-1 hole. The right-hander rebounded with three clean frames before running into trouble with two outs in the sixth inning.
Gomez (3-3) issued consecutive two-out walks to Pierzynski and Dayan Viciedo before allowing a run-scoring single to Alexei Ramirez. At that point, the Indians turned to reliever Jairo Asencio, who later surrendered a two-run single to Alejandro De Aza with the bases loaded to put the Indians behind 6-2.
"Those two walks in the last inning, they hurt me," Gomez said.
All six runs were hung on Gomez, who walked four in his 5 2/3 innings.
"Not a very pretty game," Acta said. "Gomez wasn't very aggressive in the zone and put hitters at an advantage."
In the seventh, Pierzynski tripled home a run and Viciedo added a two-run homer off Asencio to put the Indians in a 9-2 hole. Shelley Duncan belted a solo home run -- his fourth blast of the season in the ninth inning for the Indians, but Chicago's advantage was simply too much to overcome.
"They blew it wide open," Kipnis said.
Under the circumstances, Cleveland took a cautious approach with a couple of injuries that popped up. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera exited in the seventh inning because of a tight left hamstring and catcher Carlos Santana left in the eighth after a foul ball from Alex Rios struck his facemask.
Acta said both players were day-to-day and would be re-evaluated on Saturday.
The Indians' offense struggled to mount much of anything against White Sox lefty Jose Quintana (1-0), who was promoted from Triple-A Charlotte before the game. Quintana limited Cleveland to two runs on four hits in six innings, allowing a run-scoring groundout to Santana in the first and an RBI single to Cabrera in the third.
Quintana, who was making his first Major League start, faced Cleveland in his only other career appearance on May 7. In that outing, the left-hander held the Tribe scoreless over 5 2/3 innings, giving him a 1.54 ERA in his two big league appearances against the Indians. The Tribe is 4-9 against left-handed starters this season.
"He throws from the left side, to start off with," said Acta, when asked why the Tribe has struggled against Quintana. "He's throwing strikes and he's got a good cutter. He cuts the ball in to the righties and away to the lefties. He's done a good job of attacking the zone."
The Indians know not to take Quintana for granted.
The same can be said for their approach to facing the White Sox.