What's working, not working as Guardians return home

May 15th, 2022

MINNEAPOLIS -- Despite battling through a COVID-19 outbreak that postponed Wednesday’s matchup against the White Sox, sent seven coaches home and sidelined outfielder/first baseman Josh Naylor, Cleveland at least was able to see it can hang with the best in its division over this road trip.

The week started with heroics by Naylor in the Guardians’ biggest win of the season, and ended with a 3-1 loss to the Twins in the rubber match of the three-game set at Target Field on Sunday afternoon.

Let’s take a look at three things we learned on the road trip:

1. Starting pitching isn’t quite what it used to be, but it’s getting there
This has been a slow and steady climb for the Guardians' starting rotation. The team explained after the series opener in Minnesota that its confident Aaron Civale is starting to right the ship after giving up four or more runs in each of his first six starts.

Shane Bieber bounced back from one of the worst outings of his career to grind through six frames on Saturday, permitting just one run despite navigating a bit of traffic on the bases. And aside from two pitches that caught too much of the plate on Sunday, Triston McKenzie continued to be solid for the Guardians in the series finale against the Twins, showing there’s no reason to doubt that he can be one of the more reliable arms of this rotation.

Cleveland has said it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact reason for the slower start for its rotation. The starters are still building up their velocities to be closer to their regular averages (the warmer weather on this road trip helped them all tick up just a bit) and they’re all still trying to master their command. It’s not the answer that people want to turn to, but it’s hard to think that the shortened Spring Training didn’t throw the hurlers off their games a little bit.

“In Spring Training, you typically get six, seven starts and you go through that dead arm period,” acting manager and pitching coach Carl Willis said. “And during that dead arm period, you still go out and pitch and usually, you get your rear-end handed to you. … That becomes a natural occurrence each spring, but I think experiencing it and getting it out of the way, they haven’t been able to do that yet here.”

2. The Franimal is back ... but maybe just at home?
Franmil Reyes
assured everyone on Monday night that he felt just fine and he hadn’t lost his groove even though he had a four-strikeout night in Chicago. But since then, he’s remained relatively quiet.

The slugger got off to a frigid start to the season and finally appeared to be turning a corner when he returned to Progressive Field on May 4, hitting .611 (11-for-18) with a double, one homer and three RBIs in just five games. Then, he went on the road again.

Over the last five contests away from Cleveland, Reyes has gone just 2-for-19 (.105), causing fans to panic again that he’s not quite out of the woods just yet. But this has been the trend for Reyes since the season began.

Reyes at home: .405 average, 1.045 OPS, one double, two homers, five RBIs, 12 strikeouts

Reyes on the road: .114 average, .319 OPS, no doubles, one homer, six RBIs, 37 strikeouts

Five games at Progressive Field this week should serve Reyes some good, but the next big question the slugger will need to figure out is how to become more consistent moving forward.

3. The team that doesn’t quit
It’s cliché to talk about teams playing until the final out or never giving up, but those phrases have become the mantra of the Guardians. Over the last week, the team proved why, even if it didn’t come out on top:

Monday: Completed a six-run comeback in the ninth to tie the game

Tuesday: Sent the tying run to the plate with two outs in the ninth

Friday: Plated two runs in the ninth to cut their deficit

Saturday: Won in the 10th inning

Sunday: Sent the tying run to the plate with two outs in the ninth

For a young team that’s still putting together its identity, the Guardians’ never-say-die attitude has added an extra level of excitement and entertainment to the club that most did not expect.

“We’re gritty,” Guardians outfielder Richie Palacios said. “We’re just trying to get the next man up. … We’re confident that if we’re down, no matter how many runs, we have the offense to get back into it.”