Sandy Alomar Jr. has guided the Cleveland Indians to a 24-18 record this season while serving as acting manager in place of Terry Francona, who has persevered through a spate of health issues but appears on track to join the club for the playoffs.
It still remains possible for Francona to reunitewith the Indians in the American League postseason bubble with Cleveland in the field as AL Central champs.
While the Indians enter Thursday's series finale against the slumping Chicago White Sox in third place in the division, their three straight wins against visiting Chicago have pulled Cleveland to within 2 games of the suddenly second-place White Sox. Meanwhile, Cleveland is just 2 1/2 games behind the Central-leading Minnesota Twins, who leapfrogged the White Sox on Wednesday after Chicago lost for the fourth straight game and fifth time in six games.
The steady hand of Alomar, a former Indians catcher and coach, has helped Cleveland (32-24) stay the course.
"That shows how good Tito (Francona) is and how good Sandy could be in the manager position," Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor said. "He's worked extremely hard. We had so many ups and downs throughout the season, so much adversity that we had to deal with. Every single guy that's stepped up this year in the coaching staff, I'm extremely proud and I'm blessed to be part of what's happening now."
While Alomar acknowledges that "it's an honor" to manage Cleveland in a fill-in role, he's equally adamant about the instrumental impact his coaching colleagues have made on the team's resurgence.
"I was just doing my job and this happened," Alomar said. "I'm just glad that I have many people that I can lean on and then can help me."
Since clinching the franchise's first postseason berth since 2008 a week ago, the White Sox (34-22) have stumbled. Things have been especially galling in Cleveland. The Indians have scored first in each of the first three games of the series but more notably scored last on Tuesday and Wednesday, getting walk-off home runs from Jose Ramirez and Jordan Luplow, respectively, to tighten the race.
The White Sox have scored 23 runs while losing six of eight, and Chicago rookie center fielder Luis Robert is in an 0-for-28 slump while batting just .086 (6-for-70) in September.
Still, with Minnesota idle on Thursday, the White Sox can move into a first-place tie with a win in the series finale.
"We were playing well all season long. Our offense was spectacular. It's hard to maintain that," Chicago right-hander Lucas Giolito said. "This stretch is a little wakeup call. It shows us we're not invincible each time out. Things will be tough at times. We need to believe in ourselves to get out of it."
Left-hander Dallas Keuchel (6-2, 2.04 ERA) will aim to stabilize the White Sox in his final regular season start. Keuchel hasn't faced the Indians this season and is 4-1 with a 2.79 ERA in eight career appearances -- including seven starts -- against Cleveland.
Righty Zach Plesac (4-2, 1.85 ERA) will get the call for the Indians. Plesac is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in two starts against Chicago this season, with 18 strikeouts in 14 innings. He is 1-2 with a 2.42 ERA in four career starts versus the White Sox.
--Field Level Media