The visiting Cleveland Guardians will meet the Seattle Mariners for the first time this season when the teams open a four-game series on Thursday afternoon.
There’s a chance they could meet again in October.
The American League Central-leading Guardians would play host to the Mariners, who currently hold the league’s third and final wild-card berth, in the first round if the playoffs started immediately.
The Guardians opened their six-game road trip by sweeping a pair against the San Diego Padres. In the series finale on Wednesday, Cal Quantrill pitched seven scoreless innings, Jose Ramirez hit two home runs and rookie Oscar Gonzalez also went deep in a 7-0 victory.
Ramirez notched his 20th career multi-homer game.
“I’m glad he’s in our uniform every day because he plays the game right,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “He’s not always going to hit two home runs, but he shows up every day and gives you an honest effort.”
Quantrill was even more effusive in his praise of Ramirez.
“He’s a menace,” Quantrill said. “I don’t know how else to say it. He’s such an issue to deal with. There’s no clear scouting report on him. … For me, so much focus is going into getting a guy like him out that inevitably the people around start to get better and better pitches to succeed.
“He’s just such a threat. You take your foot off the pedal, he hits two home runs. If he doesn’t hit home runs, he’s walking and stealing bases. He’s a complete player. I don’t have enough praise. He’s a top five player in this sport.”
The Mariners have dropped three of their past four games — to Oakland and Washington, which have the worst records in the American and National leagues, respectively. Closer Paul Sewald allowed a tiebreaking two-run homer to the Nationals’ Ildemaro Vargas with two outs in the top of the ninth inning of Wednesday’s 3-1 defeat.
The Mariners’ only run came on a two-out home run in the eighth by Julio Rodriguez. The long ball was his 20th, making him just the 12th rookie since 1960 to reach the 20-20 milestone of 20 homers and 20 steals in a season.
“I feel like a lot of people were underestimating me last summer as well as my game,” Rodriguez said. “They just didn’t know. Now that I’m able to do it right here, right now for everybody, I’m happy about it. I’m proud of the work that I’ve been putting in the offseason to get where I am right now.”
Fellow Mariners rookie George Kirby set a record by throwing his first 24 pitches for strikes. According to STATS, that’s the most to begin a game since 1988, when pitch tracking first began. The previous mark was 21, set by Pittsburgh’s Joe Musgrove on Aug. 30, 2018, against St. Louis.
The Guardians are scheduled to start right-hander Triston McKenzie (9-9, 3.11 ERA) in the series opener against Mariners left-hander Marco Gonzales (8-12, 4.08).
McKenzie, who is coming off a career-best, 14-strikeout performance in a 5-2 victory against the Chicago White Sox on Friday, is 0-1 with a 10.80 ERA in two career starts covering just five innings against Seattle.
Gonzales is 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA in two previous appearances, including one start, against Cleveland.