Having basically played their way out of contention in the American League playoff race, the Cleveland Guardians will try to take on the role of spoiler when they open a three-game road series against the San Francisco Giants on Monday night.
Cleveland (68-76), which made the postseason last year and four of the six seasons before that, retained a glimmer of hope this year when they won four in a row bridging August and September.
But needing a big final month in an uphill climb, Cleveland has since dropped six of eight to fall 7 1/2 games behind the first-place Minnesota Twins in the AL Central.
The Guardians will face the Giants (73-70) for the first time this season. They will kick off the visit by giving rookie right-hander Gavin Williams (2-5, 3.34 ERA) his first major league start west of Texas.
The organization's first-round pick out of East Carolina in 2021, Williams bounced back from an abrupt one-inning outing at Minnesota due to a sore right knee with a strong outing on Wednesday. He allowed one run on one hit in five innings of a 2-1 home victory over the Twins.
Williams will take the mound after another of the Guardians' 24-year-olds, Tanner Bibee, fell victim to two balk calls in an otherwise brilliant seven-inning effort in a 2-1 road loss to the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday.
Cleveland manager Terry Francona said after the game he's very impressed with Bibee, Williams and other members of a young Guardians starting staff.
"We're just trying to keep these guys (reeled in). I want to look up 10-12 years from now and see (Bibee) winning 20," Francona said of pulling him after seven innings with a two-hitter. "I know that's frustrating. There will be a time when they don't have to come out."
In the Giants, Williams will see a team that found its offensive stroke against the pitching-poor Colorado Rockies over the past three days. San Francisco scored 24 runs during its three-game sweep of Colorado.
By winning three straight games, the Giants propelled themselves upward in the National League wild-card race after six consecutive losses had dimmed their hopes. They enter this series 1 1/2 games out of the final wild-card spot, which is held by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
San Francisco managed the sweep against Colorado despite holding back one of its top starters, right-hander Alex Cobb (7-6, 3.74 ERA), who took a cortisone shot in his left hip last week after experiencing pain his last time out. He made it through just three innings in that start, allowing four runs.
The former American Leaguer is familiar with the Guardians, having gone 4-2 with a 3.26 ERA against them in six career starts.
The Giants managed their offensive onslaught vs. the Rockies despite missing star catcher Patrick Bailey, who is eligible to return from the concussion injured list in time for Wednesday's series finale.
"This is maybe a little bit of a silver lining, in that he could get a little extra rest that his body could probably use," Giants manager Gabe Kapler noted. "As with all injuries, we have to fight through with the players that we have."
—Field Level Media