Since the start of the 2022 season was delayed due to the lockout, games at the start of April had to be moved to later dates, the Guardians and Twins had their first tase of this change when their four-game series was changed to be a five-game series. The double header on Tuesday allowed a game that would’ve been played on April 4, to be played that day. This was some five-game series. The Twins dominated the Guardians for about 90% of the games, yet the Guardians took three of the five games due to a couple of incredible late game comebacks, including back-to-back walk off 2-run homers on Wednesday and Thursday.

Game 1: Twins 11 – Guardians 1. WP: Sonny Gray (4-1), LP: Triston McKenzie (4-6)

Game 2: (Rescheduled from April 4) Guardians 3 – Twins 2. WP: Sam Hentges (2-0), LP: Emilio Pagan (1-3), SV: Emmanuel Clase (18)

Game 3: Twins 6 – Guardians 0. WP: Josh Winder (3-2), LP: Konnor Pilkington (1-1)

Game 4: Guardians 7 – Twins 6  (F/10) WP: Eli Morgan (4-2),LP: Jharel Cotton (2-2)

Game 5: Guardians (39-34) 5 – Twins (43-36) 3. WP: Emmanuel Clase, LP: Tyler Thornburg (0-1)

Late Inning Heroics

This Guardians team, young and hungry, has a certain flare for the dramatic feel to them. They’ll be down and look inexperienced at times. Most of the time they won’t be the first team that scores and has to play from behind. Then the final two or three innings hit, and the baseball gods seem to shine down on this team that plays a lot of old school baseball, trading lots of home runs for getting people on base and being dangerous on the base path. They’ve had numerous games just this month alone where they won it either late or in extra innings, twice against the Dodgers, once against the Rockies and a couple of times in their 10-game home stand earlier in the month against the Royals, Rangers and Athletics. However, they’ve done it an incredible number of times against the Twins in just the last week, five times to be exact, including three in this series. They had one win against the Twins in May, in which they scored two runs in the 10th during that game to win 3-2. Last week, they won 6-5, with three of their runs coming in the 8th inning or later, and 11-10, where they had a truly incredible four-run 9th inning to stun the Twins and steal a game from them.

“It’s a hard way to play,” Manager Terry Francona said, “but give our guys a lot of credit, they keep playing. For such a young team, it’s impressive because a lot of the time, guys are trying find their way through the league and forget about the scoreboard, but our guys do a good job of knowing what the score is and what we need to do to win.”

Flash forward to this series, In the first of two games on Tuesday, the Guardians trailed 2-1 in the 8th. Amed Rosario, who has been red-hot this month and arguably has been the best month of his career, singled up the middle to score Myles Straw and Steven Kwan and put them up 3-2. Emmanuel Clase shut the door the next inning for his 18th save of the season.

Wednesday night, the game went into extra innings with the game tied at three. The Twins answered in the top of the 10th when Carlos Correa singled to get Byron Buxton to third, then Max Kepler, as he’s made a habit of doing against Cleveland during his career, hit a home run to right center field, a 3-run blast to give the Twins a 6-3 lead. It was what should’ve been a devastating blow, but this Guardians team is something special late in games. It started with Steven Kwan drawing a walk to put two guys on as Richie Palacios was automatically put at second base. Red-hot Amed Rosario came up to the plate and doubled down the left field line for his fourth hit of the night, giving him nine 4-hit games over the last two seasons, the most by any player during that span, and making it 6-4. A wild pitch by Emilio Pagan scored Kwan to cut the lead to one. Up came someone who has become accustomed to being a late game hero for the Guardians, Josh Naylor. Naylor’s plan was simple. Hit a home run.

“I just tried to hit a homer to be honest,” Naylor admitted. “I was trying to end the game. I didn’t want to hit a single, I wanted to end it and win the game.”

Well, he did. It was an oppo taco and it took it’s time as it carried and carried and carried over the tall wall in left, just to the right of the foul pole for a walk off 2-run home run to cap another 4-run inning to once again stun the Twins. As per tradition, Naylor was fired up as he headbutted Terry Francona, who of course put on a helmet in preparation for Naylor’s tendency to be very fired up after a hit.

“I think he enjoys being there,” Francona said of Naylor.” He has the ability to fight off pitches that most people would miss.”

It wouldn’t be too much longer until the Guardians and Twins played their fifth and final game of the series, with first pitch being less than 15 hours later at 1:10 on Thursday. Cleveland got on the board early, but the Twins scored three runs in the third off of a bases clearing double by Jose Miranda that gave them a 2-run lead. They’d keep it that way until, you guessed it, the 8th inning. With two men on, Myles Straw singled to Correa, who messed up the throw trying to get Franmil Reyes at third, allowing him to score on the error by Correa. The next inning, with a man on second and a full count, Andrés Giménez scorched one 104 miles per hour off his bat on a line drive that carried for a long time, 411 feet to right center, right in front of the bullpen for another walk off 2-run home run, the second game in a row that the game ended like that.

“I was thinking Naylor was gonna do it again, Giménez said, “but I got an AB, and I focused a little more on the pitch and how they were going to work, and everything went good.”

Giménez and Naylor seem to just turn it to a whole other gear when late in games. In the 9th inning or later this season, Giménez is batting a ridiculous .552 with four home runs and 13 RBI, Naylor is batting .318 with three home runs and 10 RBI, two and seven of those came in one game against the White Sox back in May, and José Ramírez is batting .348 with three home runs and nine RBI.

Win Probability Doesn’t Exist?

When your win probability is eight, two, 18 and five percent, you probably aren’t going to win those games. Well, nobody told this Guardians team that, because that has been the Guardians win probability at points in their last four wins against the Twins. Think about that, in each of their last four wins, the Guardians had less than a one in five chance of winning any of those games. They won all four.

It’s a very unique situation,” Giménez said. “It’s a reminder that we keep fighting until the end and what happened Wednesday, and Thursday was a good reminder that we could fight until the end.”

How big were those four games for the Guardians, well if the Guardians had lost those four games, they could be as far back as 11 games to the Twins right now, with the Twins sitting at 47-32 and Cleveland sitting at 35-38. Instead, Cleveland trails Minnesota by just one game with the Twins being 43-36 and the Guardians being 39-34. Just think how different this season would be of just a few things went differently.

The Guardians led for just eight of the 46 innings played in the five games, yet won the series 3-2, showing that it’s not about how you start the game, it’s about how you finish. Oh, and the Guardians are the first team since 1973 to have four wins over one team in the last 10 days where they trailed by multiple runs in the 8th inning or later of a game.

More Timely Homers

The Guardians and Twins are opposites when it comes to the long ball. Minnesota is one of the best in the league at hitting home runs as they have a team total of 93 on the season, good for 8th in the majors. They’ve finished in the top six of the majors in home runs each of the last three seasons, with them setting the record for most home runs in a season with 307 in 2019. The Twins love the long ball. The Guardians on the other hand, play a much more old-fashioned style of baseball.

“We don’t necessarily hit homers here and there and everyone has 25 home runs,” Naylor explained. “We’re not that type of team. We’re real baseball players. We spread the field out, try to create chaos, have good at bats, work counts, steal bases, hit and run. Old fashioned baseball. We do have those times where players of ours will go deep in cool situations or big sports in the game.”

The Guardians have hit just 56 home runs during the 2022 season, the third fewest in the majors and over the last three seasons, their highest league ranking was 13, that occurring in 2021. Even this series, the Twins outhomered the Guardians 9-2, with six of them coming in their two wins. However, those two home runs by the Guardians cut just as deep as any of the Twins home runs, because those two were walk off home runs to give the Guardians two wins they stole from Minnesota.

“Home runs are welcomed from us,” Francona said. “We have what we have, and they keep fighting. If we score, I don’t care how we do it. Just nice to hit a home run once in a while, that certainly helps.”

The Guardians don’t hit many home runs, but they always seem to come at the most crucial time of the games.

Ending a Tough Stretch

It was super important for the Guardians to get these last two wins of the series against the Twins, not only because if they would’ve lost them, they would be five games behind instead of one, but also because of it broke a bad stretch. Before Wednesday’s walk off, the Guardians had lost six of their last seven after a 16-4 stretch. What started as a series ending 1-0 loss to Minnesota a week ago, turned into a weekend sweep by the Boston Red Sox. The Guardians then were destroyed 11-1 on Monday to make it five consecutive losses and things weren’t looking so good. The Guardians had fell from eight to just three games above five hundred and were at risk of not only dropping far behind Minnesota, but quite possibly allowing the White Sox to catch them to put them third in the AL Central. Instead, clutch hitting late in games allowed them to have a four-game swing to just one game back of the AL Central lead, with 19 of their next 22 games behind against the AL Central.

Up and Down Pitching

While the batting and late game heroics dominated the majority of the storylines, pitching hasn’t really been talked about. Monday went about as bad as it could’ve possibly been. Triston McKenzie, who had a phenomenal month of May, really struggled to end the month of June as in just five starts, he gave up 21 earned runs, an ERA of 6.44, 10 home runs and 32 hits, 13 of those 21 runs came in just the last two starts alone against the Twins. He is prone to giving up homers as 22 of his 36 runs allowed this season have come on homers.

“I think home runs are a part of the game,” McKenzie said. “Solo homers are OK because it’s one run. But when you allow those to compound and you give up hits or you walk guys beforehand and one-run home runs turn into two- or three-run home runs, that’s when they really change the game.”

In a game that was already 9-0 at one point, the Guardians didn’t want to waste any of their bullpen arms, so we got a rare sighting, a position player pitching, with Ernie Clement getting the opportunity. He gave up two runs on four hits, but got though the ninth inning, something reliever Bryan Shaw wasn’t able to do. The lone bright spot for the Guardians that night was Ian Gibaut, who made his organizational debut after being called up from Columbus that day and put forth a scoreless inning.

With a five-game series brought something pretty rare to the table, all five starters pitching in the same series, with the only difference being Konnor Pilkington pitched for Aaron Civale as he gets a little more after returning from injury. The only one who left the game with a lead was Zach Plesac as in the second game of the series, he arguably had his best performance of the season. He went six innings, giving up no runs on just three hits. He’s really starting to turn it on as in his last six starts, he has gone at least six innings in all of them and one or less earned runs in four of those. He also holds an ERA of 2.00 during that stretch.

In the bullpen, while guys like Emmanuel Clase continue to be brilliant as he earned both a save and a win in the series, while guys like Anthony Gose and Trevor Stephan have really turned it on lately with both not allowing a run-in multiple appearances during the series, the same can’t be said about Eli Morgan. Before his last three appearances, Morgan had gone 14 consecutive relief appearances without giving up an earned run, then the Twins came along. Morgan has really struggled against Minnesota over the last week. He’s given up five earned runs in his last three appearances, all against the Twins, and a total of nine runs were scored while he was in. It’s still a surprise for many seeing someone who was so dominant start struggling for multiple games, including a blown save opportunity in one of the games and three runs being scored in the 10th inning when he was being looked at as the possible first arm out of the bullpen, but Terry Francona says it’s to be expected with pitchers.

“I don’t think you can go through a whole year and put up the numbers he was,” Francona said of Morgan. “I think the Twins have done a really good job in their approach with him. He’ll be ok.”

Beef Cooking

The Guardians and Twins are natural rivals. Same division. They’ve been competing against each other for the AL Central crown for the past five years. They play each other 19 times a year on average. Eventually you get sick of playing each other, but there may be some beef brewing between these two that could turn into something the next time these two play. It all started Wednesday Night when Josh Naylor hit the walk off 2-run home run. Naylor is someone who gets very fired up after he hits a home run, and considering the Twins just lost another game they pretty much should’ve won, they could have a sour taste in their mouth for how Naylor acted after.

However, Thursday’s may just be what starts a little beef between the two. Andrés Giménez was hit by a pitch twice during the game, one on his arm and one on the hip. Who ended the game with a walk off two run blast? Giménez did. He then watched the pitch as it left, turned towards the Twins dugout and proceeded to bat flip. As he rounded third, he did a “go to sleep” motion before he crossed home plate as well. Some may call that salt in the wound. Some will call that type of swagger this young Cleveland team has. They’ve even gotten the nickname of the Guardiac kids. Could the Twins take exception to Giménez celebration combined with the fact they lost two very winnable games to a division rival? We won’t know for over two months as these two won’t meet again until September 9th in Minnesota. Either way, if these two teams are at the same point in September where they are now, it’s safe to expect some more closely contested battles between these two.

An Empire is at the Gate

With the end of the Twins series comes the final series of the 11-game home stand, and this one will be the toughest. The Evil Empire has come. The best team in baseball right now. The New York Yankees (56-21). On July 4th weekend. Something Cleveland fans look forward to every year. Their .727-win percentage is one of the highest in league history at this point in the season. Like the Twins, they live on the long ball, as their 123 home runs this season lead the majors. This will also give us the opportunity to see the battle between the top two AL MVP Candidates: Aaron Judge and José Ramírez. This series will be a great test for the Guardians as they get to play against the league’s best team and see if this young team can hang with the veteran Yankees. The Guardians will also look to avenge their early season sweep at the hands of New York. Whatever happens, it’s safe to assume no trash will be thrown at any of the outfielders.

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