GLENDALE, Ariz. - No matter what you thought of the Cleveland Indians' lineup, there was no doubting the strength of their starting rotation.
Well, that starting staff suffered a significant blow Friday, when the team announced that Mike Clevinger - perhaps the Indians' best pitcher - is slated for knee surgery. As for how long he'll be sidelined, that won't be known until after the procedure.
The White Sox are looking to vault themselves to the top of the AL Central this season, and while the Minnesota Twins are still the division's top dogs after winning 101 games last season, the Indians are another squad the South Siders will have to jump to win a division title. Cleveland didn't miss the postseason by much in 2019, with their rotation emerging as a true strength alongside the MVP candidates on the left side of the infield, Francisco Lindor and José Ramirez.
That starting staff was supposed to keep the Indians in the hunt this season, too, with Clevinger joined by a deep group including Shane Bieber, Zach Plesac and Carlos Carrasco. Cleveland even dealt away Cy Young winner Corey Kluber in a move that didn't seem to sap much of the quality from that starting staff.
But now Clevinger is heading for knee surgery and the Indians are without their best pitcher indefinitely.
That's obviously relevant to the White Sox and their chances of contending for a division crown. Clevinger made three starts against the South Siders last season, going seven innings in all three and allowing a total of two runs while striking out a total of 31 batters.
The White Sox have a much stronger lineup - on paper - going into the 2020 campaign than they did in 2019 after adding Yasmani Grandal, Luis Robert and former Indians slugger Edwin Encarnacion this winter. But Clevinger is the type of arm that can mow down any lineup. A limited number of encounters with him would be a positive for the White Sox as they look to rack up the wins necessary to unseat the Twins and Indians from the top of the division.
The White Sox, of course, have their own question marks in the starting rotation. Will Reynaldo Lopez finally find consistency? Will Dylan Cease put the rookie-year growing pains behind him? Will Michael Kopech be the same pitcher who was promised prior to his Tommy John surgery?
But the unit that was keeping the Indians contenders in the AL Central is not as strong as it was yesterday, perhaps allowing an up-and-coming White Sox team to better climb toward the top of the division.
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Mike Clevinger knee surgery improves White Sox chances of winning AL Central originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago