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Guardians brace for pivotal series vs. Twins

Sep 3, 2023; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Guardians designated hitter Josh Naylor (22) hits an RBI single during the fifth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Guardians have an uphill climb to catch the Minnesota Twins in the American League Central.

If the Guardians are to move up, the time is now as the division rivals open a three-game series on Monday evening in Cleveland.

The Guardians (66-71) enter the series five games behind the Twins (71-66) in the Central. Cleveland had a four-game winning streak snapped Sunday with a 6-2 setback to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Minnesota dropped a 6-5 decision to the Texas Rangers on Sunday. The Twins had won four of their previous six games.

Monday’s series opener will mark the Guardians’ debut of right-hander Lucas Giolito (7-11, 4.45 ERA), who was claimed off waivers from the Los Angeles Angels on Thursday.

It’s been an eventful season for Giolito, who will pitch for his third different team this season. He is no stranger to facing the Twins, however.

Giolito opened the season with the Chicago White Sox before being traded to the Angels on July 26. He was placed on waivers after the Angels fell out of the postseason race.

This season, Giolito has faced the Twins three times and is 0-1 with a 1.00 ERA against them, giving up two runs in 18 innings. For his career, he’s 8-9 with a 3.73 ERA in 23 starts against Minnesota.

The Twins will counter with right-hander Pablo Lopez (9-7, 3.72), who is closing in on 200 strikeouts for the season. The 27-year-old enters the game with 196 strikeouts in 164 2/3 innings.

While Lopez has enjoyed an All-Star season in his first year with the Twins, the veteran has struggled in two outings against the Guardians. He’s 0-1 with a 6.94 ERA, yielding nine earned runs in 11 2/3 innings.

For his career, Lopez is 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA in three starts against Cleveland.

The Guardians won the AL Central with 92 wins in 2022, but this year the team has continuously stayed below the .500 mark. Still, they have a shot to make a playoff push in the final month.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence Kole Calhoun has had such an impression on our team, in a positive way,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said.

Calhoun plays in the outfield and handled first base while Josh Naylor was on the injured list with a right oblique strain. Naylor was reinstated on Sunday and had an RBI single in the loss to the Rays.

Cleveland received a boost for the stretch run by claiming off waivers three pitchers from the Angels — Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Matt Moore.

“I would say (that’s as) unexpected as I’ve seen,” Guardians general manager Mike Chernoff said on the Guardians’ radio network. “We weren’t expecting to get players of that caliber.”

Minnesota remains in a strong spot atop the Central, largely because of its overall depth.

“I was given a roster to work with,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli told reporters on Sunday. “You’ve got 13, 14, 15 guys you’re comfortable sending to the plate.”

Having so many interchangeable players is a bonus, especially with outfielder Michael A. Taylor (right hamstring strain) going on the injured list. Infielder Willi Castro (mild left oblique strain) was reinstated.

“It’s helpful getting Willi Castro back,” Baldelli said. “Sometimes it’s big things, sometimes it’s small things. One thing you know about Willi Castro is he will be ready to play.”

–Field Level Media