Since we last checked in with the Cleveland Guardians, the team has been on a bit of a slide. Ever since a COVID-19 outbreak dramatically shook up the coaching staff, the Guardians have gone 3-6, including being swept by the Cincinnati Reds – the worst team in baseball.
After last night's loss to the Houston Astros, Cleveland is now 18-22 and stuck firmly in third place in the AL Central. Guardians manager Terry Francona is famous for living in the moment, not letting what's behind his team, or what's ahead, deter him from what the day holds for them. But, despite this levelheadedness, there could be a reason to be concerned this early into the season. Today, we'll be breaking down why that could be and more in this week's edition of key Guardians' takeaways.
But, before we get started, a little housekeeping. Due to reasons outside of Right Down Euclid's control, the first-ever community happy hour has been postponed to June 16. Thankfully, there's still time to RSVP! It'll be from 5:30 p.m. EST to 7:30 p.m. EST at Phunkenship and all are welcome to come! Plus, for the first 50 people that arrive, drinks are on them!
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Should Cleveland be worried about their playoff chances this early into the season?
To say it again, Guardians manager Terry Francona likes to live in the moment. To be frank, it's a good way in Francona's line of work with the MLB season spanning over 162 games. But, when Cleveland wrapped up its latest homestand against Cincinnati and Detroit, it's hard not to dwell on it a bit. The Reds, who own the worst record in the big leagues at 12-30, swept a two-game series from the Guardians. The Tigers, tied for the third-worst record in the majors at 14-28, split a two-game series.
After struggling in their latest series against the Astros, it might be time to worry if you're Cleveland. They’ve lost seven of their last ten games. Their offense has been better than expected through the first six weeks of the season, but in their recently completed homestand, they averaged 3.6 runs per game. Sure, the pitching rotation for the Guardians is getting better but the lack of offense is killing them. When the offense shows signs of life it’s usually in the late innings when the starters are done.
Cleveland slugger Franmil Reyes is still in his massive slump. The DH is hitting .195 (26-for-133) and leads the AL with 57 strikeouts. He’s among the league leaders in grounding into double plays and has a .255 on-base percentage and a .278 slugging percentage. Reyes is working with what he brings to the field that day. To date, his search continues for the swing that makes him one of the game’s most dangerous hitters for Cleveland.
If Reyes were to find it on this long road trip, it would help the Guardians a ton. Jose Ramirez has been great, like always, but he's cooled since his hot start in April. Supporting Ramirez on offense are Josh Naylor and Amed Rosario but they need more help. Rookie Steven Kwan has cooled off and Cleveland has to find a way to get something going to remain in the thick of things as summer looms.
If they don't again, they could be in a world of trouble. At this rate, the Guardians are on pace to go 80-82 – which would give them roughly a 22% chance of making the playoffs. Again, it's good to live in the moment but maybe at this point, Cleveland should be cognizant of what's behind them and what's to come.
Guardians ace Shane Bieber hasn't looked the same this season. It might be time for Cleveland to move on.
What will the future hold for Shane Bieber and the Guardians?
With Cleveland being nearly two months into the MLB season, the spark provided by the five-year, $124 million Jose Ramirez extension is starting to dim. Now, the reality is starting to sink in that other stars on the Guardians, like ace pitcher Shane Bieber may be on the move. In five short years with the team, Bieber has gone from just another arm with solid potential and a steady demeanor to a Cy Young-winning pitcher earning a start in the 2019 All-Star Game.
After Bieber won his Cy Young in 2020, it felt like a sizeable extension was coming from Cleveland. Two years later and nothing has come to fruition with reports saying that Bieber has rejected what the Guardians have proposed. But, this shouldn't come as a surprise. More and more players are rejecting the security of long-term deals early in their careers and opting instead to wait for free agency. Now that Bieber is making $6 million this year in his first season of arbitration, the urgency for him to sign long-term is diminishing.
Bieber is finally starting to make real money by baseball’s standards and unless there's a drastic cash infusion at the ownership level, an extension seems unlikely. Thankfully, Bieber has two years of control remaining beyond this season. It’s unrealistic to think they’d allow a Cy Young winner to just walk in free agency and get nothing for him, meaning they’re about to embark on the same song and dance that hung over Francisco Lindor’s final years in Cleveland.
The Guardians might also have to strike while there is still league interest in Bieber since he hasn’t been the same pitcher this year. Sure, he’s had just one poor outing, which was his last start against Toronto, but the outlying numbers are concerning. Bieber has the fourth-steepest drop in fastball velocity compared to March and April of last year and one of the steepest declines this year in Sarris’ innovative Stuff+ metric, which studies the physical metrics of a pitch (spin, movement and velocity).
Factor that all in on top of the fact that Cleveland has a lot of young, promising pitchers waiting in the wings as well. In the midst of throwing six no-hit innings, Double-A Akron right-hander Hunter Gaddis struck out 11 batters and made this ridiculous play.
Gaddis still needs time to season before he's ready for the main club but this year's trade deadline is fast approaching. It might be time for the Guardians to sell as high as possible on Bieber so they don't get more middling returns when these prospects are finally ready.
The Guardians have plenty of young pitching talent coming. But, it appears Triiston McKenzie has finally arrived for Cleveland.
Triston McKenzie and the rest of Cleveland's young stable should stabilize the bullpen for the foreseeable future
Speaking of Gaddis, the Akron RubberDucks have quite an impressive collection of pitchers in their bullpen. Other than Gaddis, they employ Daniel Espino (on the injured list), Logan Allen, Joey Cantillo, Xzavion Curry, Tanner Burns (same spot as Espino) and, soon, last year’s first-round pick, Gavin Williams. That group owns a 2.45 ERA combined this season. The young stable in Akron will eventually see their time with the main club in Cleveland. They'll need it too as the Guardians’ bullpen entered last weekend ranked seventh in the majors with a 3.21 ERA, which is only better than four other rotations in the MLB.
Thankfully, there is hope with the club right now in Triston McKenzie, who has been a key difference-maker for Cleveland this season. In the team's lone win in their series against the Astros, McKenzie was stellar, allowing just three hits in seven innings. One was a leadoff home run by Alex Bregman in the seventh, but McKenzie shut down Yordan Alvarez, Yuli Gurriel and Kyle Tucker in order after that and walked off the mound after an efficient 95 pitches in line for his third win in the last four starts.
This is great news for McKenzie since he returned to the majors after an up-and-down period early last season. Prior to Monday, McKenzie had posted 10 quality starts out of 16 appearances and had a 0.91 WHIP in that span. Opposing hitters slashed .188/.251/.334 against him, and his opponent's batting average is the lowest among American League starters. McKenzie is also throwing significantly more pitches in the strike zone (54.8%) compared to 2021 (45.3%) and is getting batters to swing at those pitches at a higher rate than his previous two seasons.
“Baseball is a simple game; it begins and ends with pitching,” Guardians catcher Luke Maile said after Monday’s victory. “The pulse of your team is always going to revolve around how your starting pitching is doing. He’s been spearheading that in his last four starts.”
Again, Cleveland has plenty of young talent coming down the pipeline from Akron and other minor league affiliates. That's what makes this team so appealing long-term when looking over their future prospects. But, with McKenzie finally coming into his own, the future may be here earlier than expected.
Evan Dammarell is a sports journalist covering all things Cleveland right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Did you enjoy this edition of Right Down Euclid? You can get it in your inbox two to three times a week by subscribing here. All it takes is either your Facebook account or email address!