Regardless of how they fare this weekend, the Minnesota Twins are guaranteed to finish the first half of the season in first place in the American League Central.
For the Chicago White Sox, a series win against Minnesota will get them to at least .500 and a bit further away from the worst-case scenarios that have loomed throughout the first half of the season.
The Twins and White Sox will open a four-game series on Thursday night in Minneapolis.
Minnesota’s Sonny Gray (4-2, 3.03 ERA) is slated to take the mound against Chicago’s Johnny Cueto (3-4, 2.91) in a battle of right-handers.
Both teams salvaged series splits on Wednesday.
Jose Miranda hit a walk-off, three-run homer in the ninth inning to lift the Twins to a 4-1 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers in the finale of a two-game set.
Lucas Giolito gave up an unearned run over 6 1/3 innings and earned the victory as the visiting White Sox posted a 2-1 win vs. the Cleveland Guardians to close a four-game series.
Miranda’s homer off four-time All-Star Josh Hader set off a raucous celebration by the Twins. The first baseman watched the ball land in the second deck in left field and pointed at the home dugout before beginning his home run trot.
“When you hit a ball like that in front of a great crowd and you do it off, probably, one of the five most dominant pitchers in baseball — and I might be short-changing Hader at this point — you can have some fun,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He’s earned his fun right there.”
So, too, have the Twins, who extended their AL Central lead to 4 1/2 games by virtue of the win and the Guardians’ loss. That ensures Minnesota, which finished in last place at 73-89 and 20 games behind the division-winning White Sox last season, will be in first place when the All-Star break begins Monday.
The division title in the first season of Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa’s second stint on the South Side raised the expectations for the White Sox, who were pegged as a World Series contender. But Chicago fell out of first place on April 21 and hasn’t been above .500 since improving to 22-21 on May 25.
Yet with no one separating themselves in the Central, the White Sox haven’t lost any ground in the standings — they’re five games behind the Twins — since falling under .500 on May 31.
“If you’re going to get two (games), get the last two, because that shows you what I’ve been telling you — there’s nothing wrong with the guts of this team,” La Russa said. “We can just keep improving the way we play the game; we’ll get to where we’re a plus (.500) winning team and in contention.”
Gray took the loss last Friday, when he allowed five runs over 4 2/3 innings in a 6-5 setback to the Texas Rangers.
Cueto earned the win last Saturday after surrendering five hits over eight scoreless innings as the White Sox cruised to an 8-0 romp over the Detroit Tigers.
Gray is 4-1 with a 3.63 ERA in eight career games (seven starts) against the White Sox. Cueto is 3-0 with a 1.38 ERA in four career starts against the Twins.
–Field Level Media