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The Cleveland Guardians will host the Chicago White Sox on Thursday afternoon at Progressive Field, a makeup game for a rainout on Aug. 21.

The matchup begins a particularly important stretch for the Guardians, who will play their next nine games against the White Sox (four) and Twins (five), the two teams chasing the Guardians in the American League Central.

After beating the Angels 5-3 while the second-place White Sox fell 3-0 in Colorado on Wednesday, Cleveland holds a four-game lead in the division. Minnesota is five back of the Guardians.

Cleveland hopes to get continued production from outfielder Oscar Gonzalez, who not only has earned his way into the lineup, but has been hitting in the cleanup spot recently behind No. 3 hitter Jose Ramirez.

That spot is particularly important because Ramirez, who is hitting .282 with 27 homers, 111 RBIs and an .887 OPS, has been walked intentionally 15 times this season, second only to the Yankees’ Aaron Judge (16) in the AL.

“I see it as a challenge,” Gonzalez said of batting after an intentional walk to Ramirez. “But the next time there’s an opportunity, they’ll realize it’s a mistake for them.”

After going 3-for-4 with a home run Wednesday against the Angels, Gonzalez is hitting .353 (18-for-51) with four homers, 12 RBIs and a 1.088 OPS in 13 games in September.

It’s the kind of production the club was hoping for from Gonzalez, though not necessarily right now. Gonzalez began the season in the minors and wasn’t called up until May 26.

The knock on Gonzalez was that he needed to work on his plate discipline, that he would swing at too many pitches out of the strike zone.

“We just want to see how many good pitches he can swing at,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “And to his credit — he’ll go out of the zone, but more often than not, especially when he gets down in the count, he’ll shorten up and get something he can handle. And he has such good hands that he can still hit with some force, even when he’s shortening up.”

Hunter Gaddis will start for Cleveland, his second start in the majors. In his only other start, he gave up eight runs in 3 1/3 innings in a 9-3 loss to Houston on Aug. 5.

Lance Lynn (6-5, 4.07 ERA) will make his 18th start of the season for the White Sox. He has won each of his last three starts, allowing only one earned run in 20 combined innings.

Lynn missed the first two months of the season because of a knee injury, and struggled when he returned to the active roster. But he has worked his way back into the form that had him finish third in Cy Young award voting last season.

“He dealt with injury the whole beginning of the year, really,” White Sox outfielder Andrew Vaughn said. “He’s coming out, he’s got some fire and he’s throwing the ball really, really well.”

–Field Level Media