Thanks to the hitting of rookie right fielder Oscar Gonzalez, the first-place Cleveland Guardians landed the first punch in their key three-game American League Central Division series with the Minnesota Twins on Friday night in Minneapolis.

Gonzalez, who had five home runs entering the contest, went 4-for-5 with two home runs and five RBIs as the Guardians (71-65) raced to an early 7-0 lead and held on for a 7-6 victory.

The win kept Cleveland 1 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Chicago White Sox and extended their lead over the third-place Twins (69-68) to 2 1/2 games.

“It means a lot,” Gonzalez said of winning the series opener. “It gives us an extra boost to get ahead (in the series) and keep going and also more confidence with the games to go. That’s what we’re here to look for … a good lead in the division.”

The Guardians, who improved to 7-5 against Minnesota this season, will turn to right-hander Triston McKenzie (9-11, 3.18 ERA) to try and clinch the series on Saturday night. McKenzie has struggled against the Twins, going 1-5 with a 7.05 ERA in 10 career games (eight starts).

Not exactly glowing stats, but better than what his opponent on the mound, right-hander Chris Archer (2-7, 4.47), has accumulated against Cleveland.

Archer has made eight starts against the Guardians and is 0-7 with a 5.53 ERA. His only no-decision came June 30 in a 5-3 loss in Cleveland when he allowed one run on one hit over four innings while walking six and striking out two.

The loss in Friday night’s series opener caused Minnesota to drop into third place in the tightly bunched Central. It marks the first time since April 23 that the Twins haven’t occupied one of the top two spots in the division.

One bright spot in the loss for Minnesota was the performance of shortstop Carlos Correa. He finished 4-for-5 with four RBIs and two runs and also homered for the third straight game when his two-run shot in the eighth provided the final margin.

It was Correa’s 900th career hit and the first home run allowed by James Karinchak in 26 innings this season.

“Yeah, he has really turned up the heat and has had continual really nice at-bats,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said of Correa. “Big moments, hard-hit balls, driving balls into the seats, base hits when he needs them. He looks good right now.”

Rookie infielder Jose Miranda also continued to sizzle, going 3-for-5 with two doubles and an RBI. Miranda is hitting .278 with 14 home runs in 353 at-bats and leads Minnesota with 61 RBIs.

“Tough loss,” Miranda said, “but we’ve got to come back (on Saturday) and play another game and give it our best.”

The Twins still have seven games remaining against the Guardians to make up some ground, including five over a four-day stretch in Cleveland next weekend.

–Field Level Media