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The Guardians are slaying AL Central opponents one after another

Cleveland Guardians v Chicago White Sox Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

They’ve been playing perfect until now. If we keep winning series, we know that sooner or later they’re gonna crumble, the closer we get. (Thursday) is gonna be a really good game for us to go out there and put a statement.

— Elvis Andrus

I don’t know if the Guardians truly cared about this statement — and at this point, they wouldn’t admit it even if it did — but seeing the Chicago White Sox crumble under the weight of the juggernaut Cleveland Guardians has been beyond satisfying.

Granted, the White Sox aren’t technically eliminated yet; if Elvis Andrus and friends really do believe the Guardians will crumble, there’s still time for it. But tonight it was the White Sox that folded like a wet napkin. They were overmatched from the get-go by the Guardians’ death-by-a-thousand-paper-cuts approach to offense.

It started in the first inning with Steven Kwan and Amed Rosario immediately singling off Lance Lynn. A José Ramírez and Josh Naylor strikeout later and Oscar Gonzalez was knocking in a run. Andrés Giménez followed with a single of his own and that was really the only scoring Cleveland needed tonight. They would tack on six more, of course, but Triston McKenzie looked like an ace for eight innings.

Dominating the White Sox is nothing new for Dr. Sticks — in his previous two starts against the Southsiders this year he combined to allow three earned runs in 11.1 innings with 18 strikeouts and four walks. He added to that total in the form of 13 strikeouts over eight innings, his second-highest strikeout total of the season since he recorded 14 against the White Sox on Aug. 19. He also did not walk a single White Sox batter.

Chicago’s offense registered a surprising number of hard-hit balls off McKenzie considering how little they scored. Eight were hit harder than 100 mph (plus one off of James Karinchak in the ninth), and most of them even went for hits. But when those hits didn’t go for home runs, more often than not they ended up stranded because of just how unhittable McKenzie’s stuff was for most of the game.

Of McKenzie’s 100 pitches, 48 were four-seamer fastballs, 28 were sliders, and 24 were curves. The curveball induced the most swings and misses (10), while his fastballs were located well enough for a whopping 14 called strikes. They weren’t even all located on the edge of the zone or anything — it looked like McKenzie just had them so twist turned upside-down that they didn’t know what to look for most of the time.

Triston McKenzie four-seam fastball called strikes against the White Sox
Baseball Savant

Cleveland scoring five runs in the first three innings, coupled with Triston McKenzie’s utter dominance, took the tension out of the game pretty quick. From the second inning onward, the Guards were cruising and Jason Kipnis was chilling and reminiscing in the booth. On that note, the folks at Bally Sports could not have planned Kip’s guest appearance any better. Hearing him talk about the Cleveland teams of old that he played on really drove home how special this current group is. He spent the majority of the game talking with Rick, Matt, and Andre and it was great.

The carefree attitude of the game also gave Will Brennan the perfect atmosphere to make his major-league debut and he didn’t let it go to waste, finishing with two hits and a sensational sliding catch in right field. The White Sox really looked like they wanted to attack him with fastballs up and in, but he didn’t waver. He waited for his pitches — a sinker and changeup right over the heart of the plate — to get his career off to a good start.

Naylor put the dagger into the White Sox with a 403-foot bomb in the seventh inning, and that was pretty much it. For the White Sox’s game, and probably for their season. A 59% chance to win the division entering the season, a $197 million payroll, and a decade of rebuilding ground to dust by a bunch of rookies and José Ramírez. Crumbled.