CHICAGO -- The Guardians were ready to turn a corner after an encouraging series against the Angels over the weekend. The bats seemed to be heating up, as they usually do at this point in the year. It seemed to be following the script that we’ve seen the last few seasons. But ever since the club arrived in Chicago, it’s taken a step back.
Not only are division games important, but the White Sox had gotten off to a worse start than Cleveland this year. If the Guardians wanted to start gaining momentum, this seemed to be the optimal time to do it. Instead, the Guardians fell for the second consecutive night to the White Sox, dropping Wednesday’s matchup, 7-2, at Guaranteed Rate Field.
At this time last year, the Guardians owned the same record: 19-23. But as Guardians hitting coach Chris Valaika said last week, that can’t be a crutch to lean on. Last season, Cleveland seemed to be finding ways to come back late in games, even if it didn’t come out on top. Every night, players were fielding questions about this never-say-die attitude and how much that could benefit them the rest of the year. In 2023, they haven’t given off the same vibe.
Yes, their record may mirror last year’s, but the numbers show there are more reasons to be concerned about this squad. Through 42 games in ‘22, Cleveland posted a .243 average and .696 OPS. In that span this year, the team has hit .229 with .645 OPS. In ‘22, the team was capitalizing more with runners in scoring position, hitting .279 with an .844 OPS, as opposed to this year’s .237 average and .678 OPS in those scenarios. That was after Wednesday’s 0-for-11 performance with runners in scoring position.
There are plenty of similarities between the two rosters. So many faces have returned that were part of the magical and unexpected run the club made in ‘22. The addition of Josh Bell should – in theory – make this offense better. But the Guardians are struggling to hit their stride, considering they are 10-17 over their last 27 contests, averaging fewer than three runs per game in that span.
The team just has to hope the answers to their problems are just around the corner. It certainly helps that both Triston McKenzie and Aaron Civale are beginning their rehab assignments this week, considering the rotation needs to be perfect while the offense experiences this skid to help give the bats a chance to come out on top.
As much as the Guardians have been fortunate to have Peyton Battenfield, Logan Allen and Tanner Bibee fill impressive roles for this rotation while it’s not at full strength, it’s a tall task to ask rookies to be nearly flawless in their first few outings of their career. Battenfield has yet to get his first win and he struggled with his fastball command on Wednesday, but in five of the seven games he’s started, the offense either been held scoreless or plated just one run.
Now, the focus turns toward preventing a White Sox sweep on Thursday afternoon. The Guardians need to try to take advantage of every AL Central matchup, especially now that clubs see divisional opponents fewer times in a season. And as much as it seems like it’s closing in on being the time to push the panic button, Cleveland’s clubhouse is adamant that it’s able to stay collected, knowing that better days are just around the corner.
“It’s just a little rut that we’re in right now,” Guardians infielder Tyler Freeman said. “No one is worried about it. We know when we get going it’s going to be great. Just right now, we’re in a little rut. We’ll get out of it here soon.”