Guardians' magic number to clinch Central at 1 after 6th straight win

Gonzalez belts two HRs; Quantrill improves to 10-0 in last 15 starts

September 25th, 2022

ARLINGTON -- If it were that easy, Guardians manager Terry Francona would tell his team to just hit home runs. But it’s baseball -- there are many ways to win other than the long ball, and this young Cleveland team has been the epitome of that all season. Especially over the past week.

On Saturday night, though, it just so happened to be home runs that helped Cleveland win.

Led by three homers, including two from rookie , the Guardians defeated the Rangers, 4-2, at Globe Life Field to inch closer to the AL Central title with their sixth consecutive victory.

Chicago’s 7-2 loss to Detroit was just the cherry on top Saturday, lowering Cleveland’s magic number to 1.

And now, the division race might all come down to Sunday. The Guardians need just one more win or White Sox loss to clinch the club’s first AL Central championship since 2018.

“Because of [the way this team competes], it’s getting pretty damn exciting,” Francona said. “I don’t look ahead very far, but when we come to the ballpark tomorrow, we’ve got a chance to close out this division. I don’t know if it’s gonna happen, but that’s pretty exciting.”

One of the ways -- like Friday -- this team has competed all season is by creating chaos on the basepaths. As a team, the Guardians lead the Majors in advancing runners from first to third and rank third in stolen bases (109).

But it’s hard to do that if they can’t get on base. Rangers pitcher Glenn Otto didn’t allow much of that through the first four innings Saturday. Steven Kwan drew a leadoff walk to start the game, but he’d be the only Guardian to reach base until the fifth inning, when Gonzalez notched the team’s first hit of the day -- a game-tying homer to left-center field, projected at 401 feet by Statcast.

Gonzalez, who debuted in late May, has shown off his power in the lineup this month as he’s hit a team-leading six home runs in September, bringing his season total to 11.

“I don’t want to get too carried away with it, because I want him to be a good hitter. And if he’s a good hitter, he’s gonna hit some balls out of the ballpark,” Francona said. “He’s strong, he’s got really good hands, but if he just swings at good pitches, he’s gonna do damage, whether it’s home runs or whatever. That’s kind of what I care about.”

The 24-year-old rookie’s second homer came in the ninth inning and helped pad Cleveland’s lead, eventually sealing the win for the team as well as starting pitcher . The right-hander worked six innings for his team-leading 14th win, and is now without a loss since July 5, improving to 10-0 over his last 15 starts.

Looking ahead, yes, the Guardians have a chance to clinch the division Sunday. But they’ve also got bigger goals in mind.

“We have our eyes set on, first of all, winning the division, and then being ready to set ourselves up for a playoff push,” catcher Austin Hedges said. “Obviously we want to win this division tomorrow, but then our goal is to go get a ring and bring a championship home to Cleveland.”