Many of the predictions made in April had the Twins and Cleveland finishing close in the American League Central standings. However, the expectation was that the teams would be near the cellar. But as the Twins (38-30) and Guardians (34-28) prepare to begin a three-game series on Tuesday at Target Field, Minnesota finds itself holding a one-game advantage over the Guardians for the division lead.
The Twins will play eight of their next 11 against Cleveland, including five next week on the road, and the teams are scheduled to play 16 more times this year. Minnesota took two of three from the Guardians at Target Field to drop Cleveland to 16-17 on May 15. But the Guardians (34-28) have been hot since June started, winning 13 of 17 and eight of their past 10. That includes winning two of three from the NL West-leading Dodgers this weekend in Los Angeles.
What’s remarkable about Cleveland’s success is its ownership appeared to have no interest in fielding a competitive club. The Guardians’ payroll is $68.215 million, according to Spotrac.com. Only Oakland ($47.992 million) and Baltimore ($45.121 million) have smaller payrolls. The Twins are ranked 16th at $137.976 million.
The Guardians’ lack of offensive pop after Jose Ramirez was expected to be their Achilles’ but the franchise’s ability to find solid pitching has continued to be a key.
The Guardians’ team ERA of 3.57 is sixth in the big leagues and fourth in the AL. What has been especially impressive is the work of the team’s bullpen. While the Twins’ starters have a better ERA (3.83 to 4.03 — the Twins are 15th in the major leagues, the Guardians 17th), Cleveland’s bullpen has the second-best ERA in the big leagues at 2.81. The Twins’ relievers are ranked 13th with a 3.87 ERA.
The probable starters for the series will be righthander Aaron Civale (2-3, 7.84 ERA in seven starts) vs. righty Joe Ryan (5-3, 2.81 in nine starts) on Tuesday; righty Triston McKenzie (4-5, 2.96 in 12 games, 11 starts) vs. righty Sonny Gray (3-1, 2.09 in eight starts) on Wednesday; and righty Zach Plesac (2-4, 4.41 in 12 starts) vs. lefthander Devin Smeltzer (3-1, 3.52 in seven starts).
The Twins will miss Cleveland starters Shane Bieber (3-3, 3.00) and Cal Quantrill (4-4, 3.77) this week, but they won’t be able to avoid a bullpen led by closer Emmanuel Clase (15 saves, 1.59 ERA in 30 games) and Eli Morgan (1.62 ERA in 20 games) and Shoreview native Sam Hentges (1.64 ERA in 21 games).
Ramirez, who signed a reported seven-year extension for $141 million in April, has been outstanding at the plate and is slashing .305/.397/.642 with 16 home runs and 62 RBI in 60 games. His batting average, home runs, RBIs, on-base percentage and hits (69) lead Cleveland. He leads the AL in RBIs and triples (four).
Ramirez missed the final two games of the Dodgers series because of a sore right thumb. He underwent an MRI on Sunday and it’s unclear if he will be back in the lineup on Tuesday.
- The Timberwolves’ discussions about adding a center have included Atlanta’s Clint Capela, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic. The Wolves are in need of rebounding and interior defense and Capela would provide a significant boost in these areas. He is under contract for $18.2 million through the coming season. Capela, 28, averaged 11.1 points and 11.9 rebounds in 74 games this season with the Hawks.
- The Wolves will select guard Blake Wesley of Notre Dame with the 19th pick in the first round of the NBA draft on Thursday, according to Krysten Peek of Yahoo! Sports. Matt Norlander of CBS Sports has the Wolves taking guard TyTy Washington Jr. of Kentucky.
- CBS Sports’ website rated the Vikings’ Justin Jefferson the second best wide receiver in the NFL, trailing only Las Vegas’ Davante Adams. Jefferson’s college teammate at LSU, the Bengals’ Ja’Marr Chase, was third, followed by Cooper Kupp of the Rams and Stefon Diggs of the Bills. Jefferson is eligible for a contract extension next offseason — he can have his fifth-year option picked up for 2024 — but the Vikings are going to want to keep their star receiver happy.
- The Wild will select defenseman Denton Mateychuk of Moose Jaw (WHL) with the 24th pick in the first round of the July 7 NHL draft, according to Corey Pronman of The Athletic. Mateychuk was a junior teammate of defenseman Daemon Hunt, a third-round pick of the Wild in 2020.
- I’ll be unveiling my Top 25 Vikings of all-time this week on the Purple Daily podcast. The first five were linebacker Scott Studwell at 25; Hall of Game guard Steve Hutchinson at 24; center Matt Birk at 23; cornerback Antoine Winfield at 22; and wide receiver Anthony Carter at 21. Don’t expect many quarterbacks on this list. Some Twitter responses feel that Hutchinson should have been above Birk.
- The Twins are averaging 19,723 fans in 33 home games this season, putting them 21st in the major leagues in attendance. The Twins are one of 10 big-league teams that aren’t averaging 20,000 fans this year. Cleveland ranks 26th with an average of 14,581 in only 22 home games.