CLEVELAND — The Guardians knew the most important part of their season would begin on Thursday against the second-ranked White Sox. Over the course of eight days, Cleveland would face the third-ranked Twins five times and the White Sox four times. But because of the busy schedule, the team wanted to be conservative with their pitching plans. That resulted in Hunter Gaddis being sent to the rubber in the dominant opening game for a challenging week.
Before Thursday’s make-up game (which was postponed after rain on Aug. 21) against the White Sox, Gaddis had only had one major league start, an Aug. 5 game against the Astros, that didn’t go well. In that start he allowed eight runs, all earned, in 3 1/3 innings. This time he achieved a similar result, setting a franchise record by allowing five homers in an 8-2 loss to Guardians at Progressive Field.
Guardians manager Terry Francona was asked on Wednesday why he thought it was best to push Triston McKenzie back to Friday against the Twins and call Gaddis against Chicago given the Guardians are 3-0 this season when McKenzie takes on the White Sox .
With Zach Plesac and Aaron Civale out, two spots in the rotation will be filled by starters that don’t offer much depth. That means the bullpen had to take on more innings. It also left the other three starters (McKenzie, Shane Bieber and Cal Quantrill) with a tough task of eating up as many innings as possible on each start to save the pin.
Long story short, the Guardians wanted to give McKenzie an extra day off with the tight schedule ahead.
“You’ve heard me say many times, you can’t just do things when it’s convenient,” Francona said Wednesday night. “We don’t have days off. We have to do the right thing because we need them badly.”
This move didn’t result in a win, but it can still benefit the Guardians. The club’s best helpers took a much-needed rest day in the loss to the White Sox. Bieber, Quantrill and McKenzie are still due for four more starts each, and Bieber and McKenzie will both still be serving in Chicago next week.
The downside to Gaddis’ point start, however, was that the Guardians are now just three games ahead of the White Sox. And if the Twins beat the Royals on Thursday night, Minnesota will join Cleveland on Friday and sit four games back to go into a five-game streak.
This week offers the Guardians an opportunity to run away with the Division. An AL Central title would mean Cleveland would host all three games of the wild card round in progressive field, beginning Oct. 7 against the lowest wild card seed. But the coming week also has the potential to cause chaos within the division and Thursday’s defeat opens the door for that chaos even more.
This entails a lot of “what ifs?”. scenarios. Let’s answer each one.
What happens when the Guardians and White Sox end the season in first place in the AL Central?
There is no more game 163. If two teams end the season tied for a playoff spot, the team with the better head-to-head record will advance. The Guardians are currently leading the season series against the White Sox 9-7. Cleveland needs just one win in Chicago’s three-game series that begins Tuesday to earn the tiebreak.
What happens if the Guardians and the Twins are tied?
Same thing; it comes down to the head-to-head record. The Guardians enter the five-game streak in the next four days and have a 9-5 record against Minnesota. The Guardians also only need a win against the Twins to reach the tiebreak.
What happens if all three teams end the year tied in first place?
The tiebreaker then goes to the combined record each team has against the other two clubs.
For example, the Guardians would combine their records against the White Sox AND the Twins (currently 18-12). The Twins would combine their records against the White Sox and Guardians (12-15 for now) and the White Sox would do the same against the Guardians and Twins (13-16). Whoever has the best record of the three would win the title.
Securing a win in each of those next two series is vital for the Guardians to ensure they secure a post-season spot in the event of a tie. But there’s still plenty of time for things to happen, and Cleveland must hope this extra day off allows McKenzie to set the tone in Friday’s series opener against the Twins.