Thursday, July 7, 2022

After two straight Guardians comebacks, Twins salvage one game to reclaim tie for 1st in AL Central

The Twins were able to survive Thursday’s matinee with a 1-0 victory over the red-hot Guardians on the strength of a third-inning Nick Gordon home run. 

The big scare came in the seventh inning when the Guardians loaded the bases with no outs. Reliever Joe Smith was able to induce back-to-back grounders that resulted in force outs at home plate before a Myles Straw lineout ended the threat. 

Let’s give a lot of credit to starting pitcher Devin Smeltzer for his six scoreless innings of work. 

The Guardians took the first game of the series, 6-5, behind a game-tying Franmil Reyes homer in the eighth and then an Andres Gimenez RBI single in the 11th. It was a wild one Wednesday when the Guardians rallied to score four runs in the ninth inning and prevailed 11-10. So the Twins were able to avoid a third straight gut punch on Thursday by salvaging one of three games. 

Still, the landscape of the AL Central has greatly changed in the last few weeks. Here’s a look at how things stand right now, pending the White Sox’s game against the Orioles Thursday night: 

1. Guardians, 36-29, .553, —

1. Twins, 39-32, 549, —

3. White Sox, 33-34, 4.5 GB

Note the discrepancy in games played, giving the Guardians a percentage-points lead while it’s technically tied in the “games back” category. The biggest takeaway in the short run is that the Twins’ win on Thursday moved them back into a tie instead of two games back, not to mention the growing loss-column deficit. 

Long-term, though, the Guardians’ series victory emphasizes what a huge run they’ve been on here in the last three-plus weeks. 

It wasn’t long ago that this series might not have felt quite as big. The Twins had a five-game lead in the division several different times, at late as June 1. Cleveland wasn’t in second place on a few of these dates, and as recently as May 26 it trailed Minnesota by seven games. 

This series came into focus as an important one for late June thanks to the Twins playing mediocre baseball while the Guardians surged. Casual baseball fans can be forgiven for missing the surge. The defending champion Braves won 14 in a row. The Phillies ripped of a nine-game winning streak, all but one of those games coming after firing manager Joe Girardi. The Angels lost 14 straight, a streak that got manager Joe Maddon canned. Meanwhile, the Yankees were one of the fastest teams in baseball history to 50 wins. 

All that is to say, the Guardians were overshadowed by bigger headlines. Their sequencing was a partial culprit. Their biggest winning streak this season is “only” five games. Still, we could run this thing back to May 29, when they lost to the Tigers, 2-1. Since then, the Guardians have gone 17-5. The only teams in baseball better in that span would, unsurprisingly, be the Yankees (18-3) and Braves (18-5). 

These two teams will provide us with some more entertainment very soon, too. They have a five-game series in Cleveland starting on Monday. 

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