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CLEVELAND — The stage is set.
With an 11-4 win over the Twins in the finale of a five-game series on Monday afternoon at Progressive Field, the Guardians have seemingly eliminated one of two threats for the American League Central title, as Minnesota fell seven games back in the division with just 15 games remaining in the regular season.
“It was important for us to show what we’re capable of in a playoff atmosphere,” Guardians starter Cal Quantrill said. “Every game matters, but unfortunately once you get to September, some games just matter more. These last eight games against the Twins mattered more. We knew it, they knew it, and I felt that we showed up and showed what we can do in big moments. It bodes well for these next couple weeks.”
Next on the docket for the Guardians: The White Sox.
Monday’s victory was crucial for Cleveland, even though the Twins are almost out of reach. Because the White Sox were off, the Guardians were guaranteed to either gain or lose a half-game in the standings entering this three-game series between the two clubs. With the win, Cleveland now boasts a four-game lead, giving the club a little extra cushion going into Chicago. Even if — worst-case scenario — the Guardians were to be swept, they’d still hold a lead. But that’s not something they’re willing to risk at this point in the season.
The series vs. the White Sox could determine the division title. First, the Guardians need to win at least one game to secure the edge in a tiebreak scenario. As a reminder, there is no Game 163 this year. That means all ties in the standings will come down to head-to-head matchups between the two teams. The Guardians have already taken the tiebreaker against the Twins in the unlikely chance they’re tied at the end of the year. So far, Cleveland is 9-7 against the White Sox. Whoever gets to 10 wins will end up having the advantage in a tiebreaker.
“We played our best baseball so far this year, and we’re doing it in all facets of the game,” Quantrill said. “Head to Chicago here and have a good series there and close this thing out.”
The Guardians have won 12 of their last 15 games. They took four out of five contests against the Twins over the weekend (and seven of eight over the last week and a half) to essentially eliminate Minnesota from contention. As the spotlight gets brighter deeper into the season, Cleveland’s young roster refuses to get overwhelmed and finds ways to continue to thrive.
“It’s just very loose,” Guardians outfielder Myles Straw said of the atmosphere within the clubhouse. “We’re very close as a team, which makes coming here a lot better. So we just enjoy every day, win or lose. We just have fun playing baseball. We love each other. The atmosphere, I think every single person here enjoys coming to the baseball field every day, which makes your season, your team much better overall.”
Cleveland highlighted nearly every aspect of its roster to take four out of five games against the Twins. It proved it hasn’t lost its never-say-die attitude with a 4-3, come-from-behind victory on Friday. In the matinee of Saturday’s doubleheader, Shane Bieber demonstrated how starting pitching can still carry the team, before the bullpen saved the day in the 15-inning nightcap. On Monday, the offense erupted for 11 runs on 14 hits with multihit games from all the team’s key contributors: Steven Kwan, Amed Rosario, Jos? Ram?rez, Josh Naylor and Andr?s Gim?nez.
There’s no better time for the Guardians’ best hitters to all get hot, and now the team is hoping to carry this momentum into Chicago on Tuesday. Cleveland has been tested a few times over the past few weeks to prove that it belongs in the playoff hunt. So far, it’s passed with flying colors. But this last challenge is going to be the biggest to overcome. Even still, the Guardians are confident that they can handle anything that’s thrown at them.
“Because of how they played, these games, they’re fun, man,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “This is why these guys work so hard. And it’s a first for a lot of them. That doesn’t mean they can’t do it.”