The Cleveland Guardians’ starting pitching rotation has been through a lot this season, and they’re only less than halfway through it. Shane Bieber has struggled and could be a likely candidate to be traded before the MLB trade deadline on August 1. Meanwhile, Triston McKenzie was scratched over the weekend due to a strained ulnar collateral ligament. He’s now shut down for up to six weeks, possibly longer, due to the elbow injury that may require surgery. McKenzie has only appeared in two games this season for Cleveland, and, more importantly, the Guardians may never entertain the notion of trading Bieber either.
If Cleveland could trade Bieber, it might give the Guardians a much-needed power bat or the outfield depth they need. Maybe they could even get a viable catcher considering Bo Naylor needs to ease into the weight of expectations and the Mike Zunino signing has flatlined with the ballclub electing to release him. But with McKenzie, arguably one of Cleveland’s more promising pitching prospects, possibly done for the year, trading Bieber is a non-option now. Despite the losing record and general day-to-day struggles, the Guardians are within striking distance of the Minnesota Twins and the AL Central lead. To stay in the hunt, Cleveland needs an ace, and if McKenzie is out, that’s where Bieber has to step up even though everything will be fine in his eyes.
“It is my job to block all those things out and go out there today and ultimately just compete,” said Bieber recently. “… My focus is on my teammates right now and my family and going out there and giving my best each and every day. So, it hasn’t been that hard. I know that’s not a great grab of a line, but it’s been pretty easy to focus on what’s in front of me right now.”
Focused or not, it could still be a bit of a tall order considering how Bieber continues to struggle, giving up seven hits and five runs in his latest start. If Bieber cannot return to form despite the Guardians likely not trading him, they may need to turn elsewhere for stability. Thankfully, Tanner Bibee and Logan Allen have emerged as key rotation pieces, with a combined overall record of 6-4 and have allowed an average of four runs per game allowed between them. Sure, it doesn’t help that Zach Plesac was designated for assignment recently and can’t support Bibee and Allen. Ditto for Peyton Battenfield being shifted to the 60-day injured list due to a nagging right shoulder injury. But, there could be hope for the Guardians coming soon on the horizon.
While Cal Quantrill (shoulder) and Aaron Civale (oblique) have all missed time this season due to injury, they seem to be getting healthy at the right time. Quantrill is set to start his rehab assignment Friday with the Columbus Clippers, Cleveland’s Triple-A affiliate. Meanwhile, Civale allowed two runs on five hits and three walks over 6.2 innings against the As earlier this week and struck out six Oakland bats in his second start of the season. With Quantrill and Civale getting healthy and Battenfield hopefully returning soon, things could start falling in place at just the right time for the Guardians.
Things should start to heat up this summer in the AL Central race if they do. More importantly, Cleveland doesn’t have to put the weight of everything on Bieber either. When healthy, the Guardians’ overwhelming pitching talent is their greatest strength, it’s what wins them games when they play such an ugly style of baseball. But it does become murky when all the young up-and-comers are either injured (McKenzie and Battenfield) or are recovering from injury (Quantrill and Civale).
Thankfully, despite the good fortune, there’s reason to be optimistic about Cleveland’s future. Bieber is under contract through the 2024 season so the Guardians still have time to move him this upcoming offseason. The Guardians also have the likes of Gavin Williams and Joey Cantillo ready to be in the rotation next season, with Wiliams getting his first-ever start in Cleveland on Wednesday in a 7-6 over Oakland. Williams gave up four runs, including a three-run blast by Ryan Noda, but he locked in to retire 11 of the last 13 batters he faced without allowing a hit.
Many of you live in Ohio and are also living in the moment. When McKenzie was shut down for the foreseeable future, it was understandably natural to panic. But considering how things are starting to turn around and the future looking even brighter down the line, it’s ok to be optimistic about Cleveland’s future. Granted, there’s still a lot of baseball to be played but, for now, the Guardians are still in the hunt to make the postseason.
Evan Dammarell is a sports journalist covering all things Cleveland right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You can also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can also be found three to five times weekly on Locked On Cavs, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network.
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