Guardians beat Twins in series opener with playoff level focus | Jeff Schudel (2024)

It is still early in the Major League Baseball season, but not so early for the Guardians to say the three-game series with the Twins that started May 17 at Progressive Field isn’t important.

A team that finishes a game out of a playoff berth when the season ends can look back at a loss in mid-May when players might not have given full effort and, if being honest, blame it for coming up short as much as a loss in late September.

The Guardians beat the Twins, 3-2, on a dramatic solo home run by Jose Ramirez in the bottom of the eighth inning. Emmanuel Clase closed it out with his 13th save. A two-run homer by David fry in the bottom of the sixth gave the Guards a temporary 2-1 lead.

“It’s always good to beat divisional opponents,” Fry said after the game. “Hedgie (catcher Austin Hedges) kind of talks about it all the time. We’re built for this kind of game. We want to be playing playoff baseball throughout the year so when we get to the end of the year, we’ve been doing it for six months. It’s nothing new. Tonight we had an awesome atmosphere and it kind of felt like one of those game.”

#Guardians manager Stephen Vogt gives an injury update on pitchers Gavin Williams and James Karinchak plus outfielder Steven Kwan. It’s all encouraging. pic.twitter.com/Dj0y4yt7sF

— Jeff Schudel (@jsproinsider) May 17, 2024

The Guardians were in first place in the AL Central with a record of 27-17, 1.5 games ahead of second-place Kansas City, before Triston McKenzie threw the first pitch of the game to Twins leadoff hitter Edouard Julien — a 90 mph four-seam fastball, for the record.

No one knew for sure what to expect from the Guardians under first-year manager Stephen Vogt, but anyone being honest would not have said “I told you so” at this point. Even more surprising is the strength of the AL Central, which before the season began was dubbed the worst division in baseball. Currently, the Guardians, Royals and Twins are better than .500, and the Tigers are just below sea level at 21-22.

David Fry, whose two-run home run in the sixth inning helped the #Guardians beat the #Twins, 3-2, Friday night, said the game was a playoff atmosphere in front of 30,121 at Progressive Field. pic.twitter.com/D13c3JqXYk

— Jeff Schudel (@jsproinsider) May 18, 2024

The Guardians have been in first place for 41 total days (not consecutively) since the season began on March 28. They were in second place six days and third place only one day. All with their ace, Shane Bieber, out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery after two starts.

Now the Guardians are trying to win without their premier leadoff hitter, Steven Kwan. Kwan on May 6 was placed on the 10-day injured list with a strained hamstring. He was leading the American League with a .353 batting average when he was shelved.

The injury is expected to keep Kwan sidelined another three weeks, which means he will likely miss the three-game series with the Royals that begins June 4 at Progressive Field. The Guardians won’t play the Royals again until the two teams meet June 28-30 in Kansas City. Barring a setback, Kwan will be back for those games, which might prove to be crucial in the division race.

“I’ll give my standard answer,” Kwan said in the Guardians clubhouse before his teammates faced the Twins. “Things are progressing. The rain held off, so I was able to get some swings in and some outfield practice today. There isn’t any pain. It’s a matter of getting my legs under me again.”

The Guardians were 5-5 in Kwan’s absence prior to May 17. Tyler Freeman, batting .195, hit leadoff against the Twins. Going from a leadoff hitter batting .353 to one hitting .195 is a test of the Guardians’ resiliency. Freeman was moved into the leadoff spot for the final game of the White Sox series on May 12 and all three games against the Rangers. The Guardians went 3-1 in that stretch. Freeman hit safely once in each of the first two games with Texas. He singled sharply to left in his second trip to the plate on May 17 but was left stranded.

“When Tyler hits the ball hard to center field is when he’s at his best,” Vogt said before the game. “That allows him to be able to pull the ball, keep it fair. He’s been working walks, working deep counts, getting hit by pitches, just finding a way on base. He’s been outstanding.”

The Guardians are finding ways to win with different heroes. The formula is working, and so far has prevented any prolonged slump. Their longest losing streak was the three-game skid to start the recent White Sox four-game series.

The Guardians also are not good enough to run away from the Twins, Royals and Tigers. That is why every game is important — especially their games against A.L. Central rivals.

Guardians beat Twins in series opener with playoff level focus | Jeff Schudel (2024)
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