Guardians-Twins Series Sparked What Should Be a Heated Division Race

The rain may have halted Friday night’s contest and July 4th might yet be days away, but the Guardians have already provided an array of fireworks this week. The most notable happenings came from Wednesday and Thursday’s contests with the Minnesota Twins, both games ending in Guardians’ walk-off triumphs featuring a home run to end both ballgames.

The games also brought to a close an eight-game saga between the two teams that occurred over the course of the previous ten days. Within that 10-day span, both teams seesawed back and forth over the American League Central division lead. Most recently, when Andres Gimenez deposited Twins reliever Tyler Thornberg‘s 3-2 fastball over the right-center field fence to render the Guardians victorious on Thursday, it brought the Guardians back to within one game of the Twins. The Guardians are again breathing down the neck of the Twins in the standings after having slipped as far as three games back earlier in the week and have been ahead in the division after having left Minnesota a mere week earlier.

With so many games being played in rapid succession between teams vying for the division title, it would make sense that players’ frustrations would come to the head as the days progressed. While nothing even close to resembling the recent Angels-Mariners brawl that occurred between Cleveland and Minnesota, there did seem to be something to be bubbling between the two clubs on Thursday.

Naturally, Josh Naylor‘s reactions to his own late-inning heroics stand out on their own. The Guardians’ clean-up hitter has been known to become a mad man whenever he provides the death blow to an opposing team. That’s exactly what he did and that’s exactly what he became with his own walk-off 10th inning home run on Wednesday. From what I can tell, nothing was made of his mostly hilarious antics of boisterously rounding the bases and headbutting his own helmet-donning manager upon joining his teammates after crossing the plate. Still, perhaps Wednesday’s conclusion was the first fraying in what had been a mostly quiet but competitive set of ballgames.

But to me, the real first eyebrow-raiser came in the first inning on Thursday. With two outs and Jose Ramirez on first, Naylor sent a grounder into the shift just to the right of second base. It was fielded by Twins shortstop Carlos Correa who progressed to step on second, record the force out and end the inning. Except before getting to the bag, Correa stopped. Ramirez had slowed to a walk, seeing Correa standing directly next to the bag. He continued walking for a split second before lunging for the base. Correa finally put his foot down on the bag ahead of Ramirez, giving a smile that was not returned in the process.

Credit to Ramirez for trying to catch Correa taunting him. Had Ramirez been able to sneak his foot in before Correa it would have been a heads-up move to extend the inning. The Twins would have been forced to make four outs solely due to the overconfidence of their shortstop. Correa was clearly taunting, even if it was supposedly good-natured. In turn, Ramirez could’ve made him look like a dolt. Good on him for trying. After the play had ended, the broadcast even commented that it seemed as though Ramirez didn’t appreciate Correa’s antics. For someone who plays as hard as Hosey does and doesn’t ever take a play off, that is certainly believable. But who knows. Maybe Correa forgot what he was supposed to be doing mid-play and was waiting for some sort of illicit signal from the dugout to remind him of what he is supposed to do. Not that there’s any precedent for that sort of thing with him.

Anyway, Correa’s arrogance made it that much sweeter for the Guardians and their fans come eight innings later when Gimenez put them on top for good. As the ball left the left-handed-hitting infielder’s bat, Gimenez took his time admiring his handiwork, ultimately whispering sweet nothings to his bat and giving it a kiss as he moseyed his way to first base. He then turned his back to the field as the ball landed and gestured in celebration towards the fans along the first baseline (and admittedly, the Twins dugout that lay between him and those fans).

The rest of Gimenez’s trip around the bases was the usual walk-off fare. He made the trip around, high-fived the base coaches, displayed exuberance as he approached the plate and was mobbed by his teammates upon scoring. Still, the same team whose shortstop taunted the Guardians’ best player on a routine ground-ball fielder’s choice just hours earlier then took exception to the Guardians’ walk-off excitement, jawing from the dugout. Once again, the broadcast alluded to friction between the two teams and suggested that something could pop up when the teams get back together again. The Twins certainly have a right to be frustrated, they lost the extended series five games to three and blew a lead in all five games they lost. That fate, of course, being their own doing and not being any reason to get chippy with the Guardians.

And while the Twins will get more than two months to cool down before they host Cleveland again on September 9th, who is to say that the intensity won’t be ramped up even more in the heat of a potential division race? To this point, the division rivalry is incredibly competitive. Cleveland leads the season series between the two teams with six wins to Minnesota’s five. As previously stated, both teams have been within three games of each other in the standings for nearly three weeks now and have been in the two top spots in the division since the beginning of June. There is surely a lot of baseball to be played between now and then, but the Twins and Guardians will once again play eight games against one another within a week and a half when they get together in September. That stretch could possibly be the most impactful fortnight of each team’s season.

If this last week or so has been any indication, then it’s going to be a blast. Maybe even two… hopefully of the Guardians walk-off variety. Until then, both teams are sure to be battling each other from the scoreboard, vying for division supremacy from a distance. For Guardians (and Twins, for that matter) fans, summer nights of meaningful, engaging baseball lay ahead. The suspense and excitement are sure to build and maybe even come to a culmination within those eleven days in September.

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