Call it. 4:25 p.m. ET, Sept. 19, 2022. The Minnesota Twins’ playoff chances are dead. Cause of death: Guardians.
Technically that’s not true. The Twins are only seven games back in the AL Central and wild things could still happen that give them a ticket to the postseason. But let’s call a spade a spade here — they are effectively done for after being blown out today, 11-4, and dropping four of five to the Guardians over the weekend.
The shellacking today came courtesy of just about everyone in the Guardians lineup. Every starter had at least one hit, and the top four in the lineup — Steven Kwan, Amed Rosario, José Ramírez, and Josh Naylor — all finished with two. Andrés Giménez, who still inexplicably bats in the bottom half of the lineup, also recorded a pair of hits in the win.
Twins starting pitcher Sonny Gray was removed after just 44 pitches as his velocity was down across the board (1.7 mph off his four-seamer) and the Guardians had no trouble hitting his breaking ball. I have not seen anything injured-related announced, but that certainly seems possible. It’s also just possible he didn’t have it today, just like the rest of his team.
For the Guardians, you don’t have to look far to find positives in a 11-run game, but one of the biggest was Josh Naylor finally getting back on track. He crushed a home run in the first inning that gave the Guardians a quick 3-0 lead, his first home run in two weeks and hopefully a sign of things to come. Naylor unleashed his frustrations on an inside breaking ball before unleashing an angry string of naughty words when he was hit by a pitch a few innings later.
Oh, and he also doubled later. Sure, why not.
Luke Maile and Amed Rosario joined Naylor in hitting bombs, and not only did Maile go long to lead off the eighth, but he almost did it again in with two outs in the inning after the lineup batted around. Unfortunately, where his home run went 397 feet, his 394-foot follow-up was a harmless out. Rosario hitting well is nothing new against these Twins, as his two today give him 10 total in the five games — and that includes a hitless day in yesterday’s loss.
Kwan’s two hits included a triple, his sixth of the season. Like Naylor’s home run, he took an inside breaking ball and lifted it to right field; just far enough to miss a diving outfielder and enough to score Myles Straw.
For a while, it appeared the Guardians were in for another mid-game collapse. The hot start gave way to the Twins chipping away at the lead like they did in that 15-inning monster game on Saturday. Only, this time, the Twins offense sputtered at four runs while the Guardians exploded against the bullpen in the eighth. A mix of hits, wild pitches, and steals ended with the Guardians putting four more on the board to effectively sink Minnesota. By the end of the eighth, they were using a position player to get outs, and he might have been their best pitcher of the game.
Cleveland’s pitchers faired much better, which is great news for the upcoming series against the White Sox. Cal Quantrill, utilizing a heavy Sinker-Cutter mix as per usual, worked 5.1 innings with three earned runs, two strikeouts, and a walk. Sam Hentges was the real hero, closing out the final 2.1 innings without allowing a hit and striking out a pair.
With the series wrapped up, we reach true make or break time for the postseason. Cleveland sits four games ahead of the White Sox, who they also happen to be playing for the next three days. A sweep could make the final two weeks of the season a relaxing jog into October, while getting swept could make every game against the Rangers and Royals count.
Thanks to some lengthy outings from starters and relievers alike this series, the Guardians are lined up well against the White Sox. Aaron Civale, Triston McKenzie, and Shane Bieber are all slated to start with their best relievers rested and ready to go.