CHICAGO — If the Twins want to make some noise in the postseason, they’ll need contributions from both veterans and rookies.
In the Twins’ 4-0 win over the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on Sunday afternoon, both groups showed up in a big way. Sonny Gray tossed seven scoreless innings and Edouard Julien crushed a go-ahead three-run homer in the fifth inning to secure the victory.
- Games remaining (12): at CIN (3), vs. LAA (3), vs. OAK (3), at COL (3)
- Standings update: The Twins (79-71) hold a seven-game lead on the Guardians (72-78) for the AL Central title. Cleveland clinched the tiebreaker by winning the season series, 7-6. Minnesota is currently positioned as the third-best division winner, meaning it would host a best-of-three Wild Card Series vs. the final Wild Card entrant starting on Oct. 3.
- Magic number: 6 (for AL Central)
“It was a good way to finish the series,” said bench coach Jayce Tingler, who began filling in for manager Rocco Baldelli on Sunday after Baldelli returned to Minnesota to be with his wife, who is expecting twins.
“I think Sonny kind of came out from the get-go and set the tone and just really threw the ball well. [We] got the two big hits, really from Julien and the [insurance run] from [Jorge] Polanco. We played pretty good defense behind him and a nice way to finish up the [series].”
Gray was exceptional on the mound in his 30th start of the season, allowing just five hits with six strikeouts. The right-hander didn’t face too much trouble. But when he did, he escaped it.
He allowed leadoff doubles in the fourth and sixth innings. However, Gray put up zeros in both frames by stranding both runners at third base. Andrew Stevenson, who made a spectacular grab in center field in the sixth, helped him limit any damage.
“[Gray’s] obviously got really good stuff,” White Sox manager Pedro Grifol said. “He’s putting together a really good season. The key to what he does is he bears down with runners in scoring position. You saw that all day.”
Added Tingler: “He finds a way to just slow it down, make pitches and navigate his way through.”
The veteran lowered his ERA to 2.84, second-lowest in the American League and fourth-lowest in the Majors. Minnesota’s one-two punch of Gray and Pablo López — who has a 3.58 ERA and 221 strikeouts — has done wonders for them this year.
Both will likely be called upon in the first two games of the Wild Card round, and the Twins like their chances with them on the mound.
“I feel like Sonny has been doing it really all year,” Tingler said. “[He] and Pablo have been going back and forth. I think both guys are certainly worthy of Cy Young talk, and they’ve just been outstanding, Sonny continued it again today.”
Gray’s dominant outing was backed by the rookie infielder Julien, who connected on a fastball from White Sox starter Dylan Cease for a Statcast-projected 410-foot, three-run homer.
“It felt good because it’s been awhile since I’ve hit a home run [to the] opposite field,” Julien said. “It feels good just to … be able to see the ball well and drive the ball out to the opposite field. I felt good today.”
The homer off Cease continues to show the talent of Julien at the plate. His three-run shot was his 14th homer of the season, and he is now hitting .268 with a .843 OPS.
The team has plenty of trust in the rookie at the top of the lineup, and he’s been coming through in a big way all year. Julien has reached base in 10 straight games and in 17 of the past 19 contests. He also started at first base for just the second time this season.
“I’ve seen more different plays there, different types of catches and throws,” Julien said. “It’s different, but I’m feeling more comfortable.”
With the Twins’ magic number reaching six, they could clinch the division as soon as Wednesday in Cincinnati.
“We’re closer to our goal to make the playoffs now,” Julien said. “Every win that we get, it makes us even closer. We go to Cincinnati against a team that’s battling for the playoffs, and it’ll be a good test for us and hopefully we come out on top.”