Heading into a three-game series in Kansas City on Sept. 5, the Cleveland Guardians had lost five straight games and eight of their past 10. Their once-comfortable lead in the American League Central was gone, as they were tied with the Minnesota Twins, two games ahead of the Chicago White Sox.

Beginning with the opener of that series against the Royals, the Guardians have won 23 of their past 29 games. They clinched the AL Central title more than a week ago, and manager Terry Francona has had the luxury of setting his rotation for the postseason.

The Royals (65-96) and host Guardians (91-70) will conclude their six-game series, and the 2022 regular season, with a late-afternoon game Wednesday. Kansas City will hand the ball to Jonathan Heasley (4-9, 5.00 ERA), while Cleveland will start Aaron Civale (4-6, 5.04) in a matchup of right-handers.

The Guardians will get a day off on Thursday before opening a best-of-three wild-card series at home against the Tampa Bay Rays (86-75) on Friday.

On Tuesday, Cleveland scored five runs in the fifth inning — two on a double by Jose Ramirez and two on a home run by Owen Miller — to defeat the Royals 5-3. Ramirez has 19 RBIs in 17 games against Kansas City this season.

Francona was asked before the first game of the Royals’ series in early September if there was any panic in the locker room. After a snarky remark about answering the question, he set the tone for the next month.

“This is the way we make our living,” he said. “We love trying to win. We hate it when we lose. This week hasn’t been the most productive week. But if you let last week affect tonight, then that’s not good. I don’t see that happening.

“We have a veteran staff, and they know how to act. They’ve been through it. The guys compete. We’re not really clicking on a lot of cylinders right now, so it’s kind of frustrating.”

Things obviously have been clicking since then.

Civale, who was on the injured list for the September series against the Royals, has won his past two starts, allowing two earned runs in each. In his latest outing, on Friday in the first game of the current series, he allowed three runs (two earned) on three hits in six innings in his third start since returning from forearm inflammation.

Civale is 1-0 with a 2.76 ERA in three starts against Kansas City this season. He is 1-1 with a 4.32 ERA in six career starts vs. the Royals.

Heasley has been really good at times in 2022, but at other times, he has been far from it. He has given up two runs or less in nine of his 20 starts. He also has given up five or more runs on five occasions.

Heasley’s last three starts are representative. He had back-to-back starts in which he allowed a combined one run on four hits in 12 2/3 innings. Then he gave up five runs (four earned) on six hits in 4 2/3 innings in a loss to the Detroit Tigers on Thursday. A four-run fifth did him in.

“He was good up until that point,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “(He was) attacking the strike zone. He was really efficient. His stuff looked good. Then the leadoff walk seemed to send him into a little bit of a spiral.”

Heasley is 0-1 with a 9.82 ERA in two career starts against Cleveland, with both of those outings occurring this season.

–Field Level Media