The Cleveland Guardians hold a 1 1/2-game lead over the Minnesota Twins in the tightly bunched American League Central heading into a three-game series between the rivals that starts Friday night in Minneapolis.

The series begins a stretch that will see the Guardians (70-65) and Twins (69-67) play eight times over the next 11 days and figures to have a major impact in determining who wins the Central.

Cleveland also has four games remaining with the Chicago White Sox (70-68), who are tied for second with the Twins. Minnesota has six left against the White Sox, including a three-game, season-ending series in Chicago.

The Guardians have won six of their first 11 meetings with the Twins this year.

Cal Quantrill (11-5, 3.55 ERA) will pitch the series opener for Cleveland. The right-hander is 2-0 with a 3.79 ERA in eight career appearances (five starts) against the Twins, including a win on June 29 when he yielded three runs on eight hits in eight innings.

Minnesota will counter with veteran right-hander Dylan Bundy (8-6, 4.34 ERA), who is 4-1 with a 2.96 ERA in six career games (five starts) against the Guardians. He lost to Quantrill and Cleveland on June 29 after giving up three runs (two earned) on six hits in five innings.

Both teams have struggled heading into the series. Cleveland is just 4-9 over its past 13 games while Minnesota is 2-6 over its past eight.

The Twins, however, come in off a 4-3 win over the New York Yankees on Thursday night, salvaging the final game of a four-game series with the AL East leaders. Minnesota also snapped an eight-game, regular-season losing streak at Yankee Stadium dating back to May 4, 2019. Including playoffs, it was just Minnesota’s third win in 27 games in the Bronx since 2015.

“The series as a whole, ending it like this, I think was really nice for us,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “We’re going to get on a plane, we’re going to go home, and we have another big series coming up. We’ll take this as a finale.”

Minnesota’s Carlos Correa led the way with a two-run homer in the eighth to break a 2-2 tie. Michael Fulmer pitched out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the bottom of the ninth to give the Twins some much-needed momentum heading into the weekend series.

“I got a good pitch to hit and I didn’t miss it,” Correa said. “It was just a total team effort. (Starting pitcher) Sonny (Gray) did a great job. We had to use everybody (Wednesday) in the bullpen with the doubleheader and he did a great job going deep into the game. Truly, he gave us a chance to win this game. All props to him.”

Gray allowed two runs on seven hits over six innings. He walked one and struck out seven, as he didn’t factor into the decision.

Cleveland had a day off on Thursday after taking a bitter 2-1 road loss to the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday night.

The Guardians led 1-0 going into the bottom of the ninth, but All-Star closer Emmanuel Clase, who had walked only six batters in 61 appearances all season, walked the first two batters he faced. Two batters later, MJ Melendez bounced a game-tying RBI single up the middle, and Salvador Perez soon won the game with a walk-off sacrifice fly.

It snapped a streak of 25 straight save conversions for Clase dating back to May 14.

“He just lost the plate and proved he’s human,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. “It’s been a long time since something like that has happened.”

–Field Level Media