While the Cleveland Guardians are playing well enough to put them into a moderate buyer’s market, every rough performance may put the Boston Red Sox closer to selling off pieces by Tuesday’s trade deadline.

With seven wins in their past 10 games, the Guardians are within 2 1/2 of the final American League wild-card spot. They will look to gain more ground in the race Thursday night in the finale of a four-game road series against the scuffling Red Sox.

Cleveland opened the series with a 3-1 loss on Monday but provided strong responses in the next two games. The Guardians earned an 8-3 win on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Myles Straw hit a tying double in the eighth inning and Josh Naylor socked a tiebreaking homer off Tanner Houck in the ninth to give Cleveland a 7-6 victory.

Naylor’s homer occurred hours after ESPN reported that Cleveland was willing to listen to offers for ace Shane Bieber along with fellow controllable starters Zach Plesac and Aaron Civale.

The Guardians are hoping for more positive contributions from several regulars. Naylor bashed his sixth homer in his past 20 games. Straw wound up with a pair of RBI doubles, giving him a .345 average (19-for-55) over his past 16 games — a major upgrade considering he was hitting .194 before that stretch.

“I love everyone here,” Naylor said on Bally Sports Cleveland. “I think we all love each other. It’s genuine in that locker room. Everybody is cheering on each other and thriving on each other’s success. It’s a ballclub you want to be a part of.”

Boston is under .500 for the first time since it was 27-28 on June 4. The Red Sox are now 4 1/2 games out of a playoff spot after committing three errors on Wednesday, all by first baseman Franchy Cordero.

The Red Sox went 20-6 in June and were 47-39 after splitting a four-game series with the New York Yankees from July 7-10. Since then, the Red Sox are on an ugly 2-11 slide that has seen them get outscored 109-42 while losing Trevor Story and Rafael Devers to injuries.

Boston’s defense has struggled of late, as typified by Cordero on Wednesday. During the slide, the Red Sox have been charged with 16 errors and allowed 11 unearned runs.

“We didn’t play good defense,” Boston manager Alex Cora said. “At the end, that’s the result. You give the opposition more than 27 outs at this level, you’re going to pay the price. It’s been going on for a while here. Defensively, we were really good for a while. We haven’t been good for the last 2 1/2 weeks.”

Cleveland’s Triston McKenzie (7-6, 3.11 ERA) will make his final start on Thursday before celebrating his 25th birthday next Tuesday. McKenzie heads into his first career outing against Boston with a 3-0 record and an 0.34 ERA in his past four starts since getting shelled for seven runs by the Minnesota Twins on June 27.

McKenzie pitched 24 scoreless innings before allowing a run in the fourth inning Saturday, when he pitched 5 2/3 innings and did not get a decision in Cleveland’s 7-4 win over the Chicago White Sox.

Boston’s starters are 0-12 with a 7.65 ERA this month, and the Red Sox hope rookie Kutter Crawford (2-3, 4.50) can end the skid. Crawford is 1-1 with a 2.82 ERA in his past four outings and owns a 3.81 ERA in five starts this season.

Crawford last pitched on Saturday in a 4-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, when he allowed three runs in six innings.

Crawford will face Cleveland for the second time. He made his major league debut against Cleveland last Sept. 5 and allowed five runs in two-plus innings during an 11-5 home loss.

–Field Level Media