It all comes down to this (and also three more months of baseball, but mostly this)
It would be easy to say this is the most important series to date for the 2022 Guardians, so I’ll do that: This is the most important series to date for the 2022 Guardians.
Cleveland hasn’t tasted first place in the AL Central at all this season, having dropped their Opening Day game against the Royals and immediately falling into the division basement. Now sitting just one game back after an excellent record in June, they’re well within striking distance.
Civale will start the pivotal series for the Guardians, his first after a lengthy injured list stint. The 27-year-old is recovering from a glute injury, but he might also be nursing a bruised ego given how poorly his first seven starts went. Before hitting the IL on May 20, Civale had a 7.84 ERA and was giving up 1.74 home runs per nine innings. His last outing was his best, a 6.1-inning win against the Tigers, and he allowed two earned runs in 6.2 rehab innings in Columbus.
The Club Formerly Known as the Bomba Squad ranks highly in most offensive categories, but middle-of-the-pack in most pitching measurements — they’re no longer the baseball murdering squad of 2019, but they can’t still hit. It’s pitching issues that have seemingly kept them from going far in the playoffs in recent years, but the Guardians will face two of their best this series in Sonny Gray and Joe Ryan.
Gray, in particular, is having one of his best seasons ever at 32. He’s currently sporting a 2.09 ERA through eight starts as a sinker that he began using as a primary pitch last year has slowly taken over his repertoire. He’s thrown his 92-ish mph sinker 32.5% of the time this year, which breaks just enough to differentiate it from his 92-ish mph four-seamer. The results have been fantastic as he makes the Twins grateful for acquiring him from the Reds this offseason.
Game 1 starter Joe Ryan doesn’t have the resume of the veteran Gray, but his results have been equally impressive. He sports a 2.81 ERA with a heavy four-seam attack (57.4% of his total pitches) along with a slider, changeup, and curve. Ryan struggled in his last start against the Mariners, giving up four earned runs in 4.2 innings on June 14.
The Twins lineup you know and hate is all accounted for over the next three days. Byron Buxton is uninjured and is second on the Twins with a 153 wRC+ despite an on-base percentage of just .315 — because dingers dingers dingers, baby. He’s already tied his career-high with 19 home runs, and if he stays healthy, looks like he’ll put together his best season yet.
Baron Von Max Kepler — noted Bond villain and Guardians killer — has only hit six home runs this season but I expect him to double that number over the next three days.
Luis Arraez is the type of hitter that would make the Guardians front office salivate. He walks more than he strikes out (11.9% walk rate, compared to 8.5% strikeout rate) and his swinging strike rate is a measley 3.4%. That’s second only to some guy named Steven Kwan, who has swung and missed 2.4% of the time. As a fun fact, Myles Straw is No. 3 in the league at 4.4%, former Guardian Michael Brantley is next at 4.4%, and José Ramírez is fifth at 4.9%.
The Twins and Guardians will play each other eight times over the next 11 days, including a doubleheader on June 28 as part of a five-game series. If Cleveland can ride their recent wave of success — six-straight series wins and two of three against the Dodgers on the road — they could set themselves up comfortable in the AL Central lead before the calendar turns to July.
Team at a glance
- Record: 38-20 (4th in AL)
- Runs Scored: 301 (4th in AL)
- Run Differential: +25 (5th in AL)
- Last 10: 5-5
- Slash: .251/.324/.409
- wOBA: .323 (3rd in AL)
- wRC+: 112 (4th in AL)
- ERA: 3.85 (7th in AL)
- SIERA: 3.85 (7th in AL)
- K-BB%: 14.3% (8th in AL)
Tuesday, June 21, 7:40 p.m. ET: RHP Joe Ryan vs. TBD (RHP Aaron Civale)
Wednesday, June 22, 7:40 p.m. ET: RHP Sonny Gray vs. RHP Triston McKenzie
Thursday, June 23, 1:10 p.m. ET: LHP Devin Smeltzer vs. RHP Zach Plesac