McKenzie (13 K's) deals as Cleveland creeps closer to title

Right-hander goes 8 strong IP as Guardians' magic number to clinch AL Central falls to 7

September 22nd, 2022

CHICAGO -- The Guardians’ playoff odds are skyrocketing by the minute.

After Tuesday’s extra-inning thriller, the Guardians jumped out to an early lead on Wednesday night that propelled them to an 8-2 victory over the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field.

The win moved Cleveland six games ahead of Chicago with just 13 games remaining in the regular season and trimmed the magic number to win the American League Central title to seven.

"They play hard,” White Sox interim manager Miguel Cairo said. “They get good at-bats. They go over there and if you don’t play good, they go out there and play. You just have to play better and have a chance to compete against them."

It’s even harder to compete against the Guardians when their starter is as hot as Triston McKenzie was in this one.

The 25-year-old righty went eight strong innings, allowing two runs on six hits with no walks and a whopping 13 strikeouts. His heater crept up to 96 mph and his curveball was as good as it’s ever been.

Of the 24 curves McKenzie threw, 13 induced swings. Of the 13 swings, 10 were swings and misses. That’s the highest whiff percentage (77%) he has had in a start in which he had at least 10 swings against the offering.

“I thought it was special,” manager Terry Francona said of McKenzie’s performance. “He had no walks, 13 strikeouts. He was spinning it and they had to respect his fastball because it had life through the zone and then he was spinning it as good as he was. That was very impressive.”

An outing like this against the White Sox has almost become commonplace for McKenzie. The Guardians have won all four starts McKenzie has made against Chicago this year, as he went 2-0 with a 2.16 ERA in those outings. And let’s not forget that in his previous start against the White Sox on Aug. 19, McKenzie struck out a career-high 14 batters with zero walks.

“I think we have a good game plan just going into the game,” McKenzie said of his success against Chicago. “I’m not actually thinking about striking guys out as we go through the game, but I think once we got to the fourth or the fifth inning and I had six or seven, it was more like let’s keep attacking guys in the zone and let’s keep expanding and see if we can get them to chase.”

This success isn’t even limited to his matchups with the White Sox. McKenzie has proven that he can perform at this level consistently, as Wednesday marked his third start of the year with at least 10 strikeouts and no walks, tying Corey Kluber (2017) with the most such outings in a season in Cleveland history.

The more McKenzie continues to show how effective he can be, the more his teammates joke about what it’d be like to face him in the batter’s box.

“I think we talk about that all the time,” rookie outfielder Steven Kwan said. “It would be scary, though, because that slider he has, that’s kind of the same speed as his fastball but profiles a slider is something crazy. And then he’s made a lot of people look silly on that curveball.”

The Guardians always knew McKenzie was capable of this level of dominance. There’s a reason the team never gave up on him when he battled through a handful of injuries in 2018 and ‘19 in the Minors. His progression was delayed, but he’s showing that it was worth the wait.

And if there was any concern about his durability taking on this kind of workload at this point in the season after his history with injuries in the past, those worries seem to be in the rearview mirror.

“It doesn’t look like his tank is on the empty side,” Francona said. “That’s as good as he’s looked tonight.”

The Guardians are refusing to focus on the fact that their playoff hopes are all but clinched as the White Sox and Twins fade in the division race. The team insists on taking one day at a time and just enjoying each time it steps on the field -- an approach that’s certainly worked thus far.

“I’ve believed in this team before we even started the season,” McKenzie said. “If you had told me [at the beginning of the season] we were six games up [now], it wouldn’t have surprised me.”