Sonny Gray and Edouard Julien reduce Twins’ magic number to six

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CHICAGO — If the Twins want to make some noise in the postseason, they’ll need contributions from both veterans and rookies.

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In the Twins’ 4-0 victory over the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on Sunday afternoon, both groups showed up big time. Sonny Gray pitched seven scoreless innings and Edouard Julien hit a three-run homer in the fifth inning to secure the victory.

“It was a good way to end 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 thought Sonny came out from the beginning, set the tone and really shot the ball well. (We) got the two big successes, really from Julien and (the insurance career) from (Jorge) Polanco. We played pretty good defense behind him and a good way to end (the series).”

Gray was exceptional on the mound in his 30th start of the season, allowing just five hits with six strikeouts. The right didn’t have too many problems. But when he did, he ran away.

He allowed leadoff doubles in the fourth and sixth innings. However, Gray scored zeroes in both frames by stranding both runners at third base. Helping him limit any damage was Andrew Stevenson, who made a spectacular catch in center field in the sixth.

“(Gray) obviously has very good things,” White Sox manager Pedro Grifol said. “He’s having a very good season. The key to what he does is attack runners in scoring position. You saw it all day.”

Tingler added: “Find a way to just slow down, make pitches and cruise.”

The veteran lowered his ERA to 2.84, the second-lowest in the American League and the fourth-lowest in the Majors. Minnesota’s one-two punch against Gray and Pablo Lopez (who has a 3.58 ERA and 221 strikeouts) has done wonders for them this year.

Both are likely to be called up 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 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 been outstanding, and Sonny continued that again today.”

Gray’s dominant outing was backed by rookie infielder Julien, who hit a fastball from White Sox starter Dylan Cease for a Statcast-projected 410-foot three-run home run.

“I felt good because it had been a while since I hit a home run (to the) opposite field,” Julien said. “It feels good to just… be able to see the ball well and drive it into the opposing field. “I felt good today.”

Cease’s home run continues to showcase Julien’s talent at the plate. His three-run homer was his 14th home run of the season and he is now hitting .268 with an .843 OPS.

The team has a lot of confidence in the rookie at the top of the lineup and he has been excelling all year. Julien has reached base in 10 consecutive games and in 17 of the last 19 games. He also started at first base for 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 feel more comfortable.”

With the Twins’ magic number reaching six, they could clinch the division as early as Wednesday in Cincinnati.

“Now we are closer to our goal of making the playoffs,” Julien said. “Every victory we achieve brings us even closer. We are going to Cincinnati against a team that is fighting for the playoffs and it will be a good test for us and hopefully we will come out victorious.”

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