'We're all getting tested': Guardians blanked in series finale

May 24th, 2023

CLEVELAND -- There’s no more comparing this to last year. The Guardians know they are facing more of an uphill battle than what they were 50 games into the 2022 season. Now, they just have to figure out how to climb out.

Cleveland's bats were silenced against White Sox starter Michael Kopech, who gave up just two hits in seven scoreless innings. Guardians starter couldn’t get through more than four innings, giving up six runs on four hits and three walks. The result was a 6-0 loss for Cleveland in the series finale against Chicago at Progressive Field on Wednesday afternoon.

Cleveland has fallen in seven of its past nine contests. Against the White Sox this series, the club plated five runs in the three games. The Guardians have also been shut out six times this season, which is tied for the fourth most in the Majors. But the team is hoping it's through the worst of it. And if they’ve bottomed out, the only direction to go is up.

“I think we’re all getting tested,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “I believe we’re tough enough to fight through this, but we’re going to find out because we are getting tested. All of us.”

Year after year, the Guardians lean on All-Star third baseman José Ramírez to help bring life to the lineup. Cleveland, once again off to a slow start, always seems to rely on Ramírez to single-handedly carry the offense until all the bats begin heating up. That’s been no different this year.

Entering Monday, Ramírez owned a .272/.355/.473 slash line with a 116 wRC+ and a 1.4 fWAR. But the rest of those with at least 50 plate appearances have combined for a .221/.292/.327 slash line with a 72 wRC+ and a -0.9 fWAR.

“We need to clean up some things,” Quantrill said. “We need to run the bases better. We need to not walk leadoff hitters like I did today. We need to score when we have opportunities to score, and I think we need to make sure we’re giving ourselves a chance to hand it over to a very good [bullpen] with a lead. It’s the little things for us, and I don’t think we’ve done a very good job with them -- myself included, especially today.”

The Guardians' bullpen showed it can be effective, piecing together five perfect innings after Quantrill’s early departure. Closer Emmanuel Clase has seen an uptick in his velocity and is slowly starting to see more swing and miss against his slider. And Logan Allen and Tanner Bibee have both been exciting additions to this rotation.

The team knows it's close to breaking through. Now, it just needs to find a way to do it.

Before Wednesday’s contest, Francona talked about how difficult it has been to find at-bats for infielder Tyler Freeman, who has been serving as a depth piece on Cleveland’s bench. Gabriel Arias has been seeing more time in right field to try to get his bat going. The team is constantly weighing every possible choice it can make to find a way to come out on the winning side of the equation. So far, the Guardians haven’t found the magic answer.

Maybe that answer will come when catcher Bo Naylor, inevitably, gets his chance in the Majors. Maybe the club just needs another day off on Thursday to reset and let Francona’s message from his team meeting on Sunday night in New York set in. Maybe the Guardians just need Aaron Civale and Triston McKenzie back in the rotation to feel whole again. Or maybe the team will continue to search for answers far longer than it would like.

But Francona is relying on his experience to find a way out of this skid. And he explained what that experience has taught him.

“Work hard, pay attention to detail, all the things we’ve talked about since the first thing of Spring Training,” Francona said. “That’s why we do it. It’s easy when you’re winning eight in a row. It’s easy patting them on the rear end. That’s why we try to live by it, because when it gets hard, that’s when you really find out. We’re going to have to dig deep.”