Guardians' offense relentless in Cincy sweep
CINCINNATI – In the midst of the well-deserved hype over Steven Kwan's on-base and contact abilities to start the season, it’s easy to overlook other aspects of the Guardians' offense.
In Wednesday’s 7-3 win over the Reds before 10,976 rain-soaked fans at Great American Ball Park, José Ramírez, Myles Straw and Owen Miller made sure they would be overlooked no more.
As a matter of fact, Ramírez had a two-day stay in Cincinnati that would make any Reds fan blush. The Guardians third baseman scalded the baseball to the tune of six hits, nine RBIs and two homers as Cleveland clinched the Ohio Cup for the eighth consecutive year, going 26-10 against Cincinnati since the streak began in 2015. The two teams renew acquaintances May 17-18 at Progressive Field.
The Guardians raced out to a 6-0 lead on Wednesday and weren't threatened. On Tuesday, Cleveland had a 4-0 lead before Cincinnati tied it in the sixth. The six-run ninth made it a comfortable finish.
The offense in the club's four-game winning streak has made life a bit easier on manager Terry Francona.
“You can be a little more aggressive on the bases. If you do make a mistake, it's not the end of the world,” Francona said. “Our guys have done a really good job of coming out and competing. We've tried to drill it home all spring: Be ready for the first pitch of the game. Straw beating out an infield hit [on Tuesday], those things, they matter. That's the kind of team we're gonna have to be. We can't just roll the bats and balls out there and think we're gonna be good. We gotta get after it every day, every inning.”
When teams make the mistake like the Reds did on Wednesday of not pitching around Ramírez in a potential intentional walk situation, the Cleveland third baseman is making them pay -- dearly.
With Myles Straw on third base and one out in a 3-0 game in the fourth, rookie lefty Nick Lodolo -- making his Major League debut -- chose to pitch to the red-hot hitter. Ramírez crushed the first pitch he saw -- a 94 mph sinker -- to the seats in right-center for his second homer in as many days to give Cleveland a 5-0 lead.
“Sometimes when Josy is struggling, his hits are foul,” Francona said. “He barrels them up, but they're foul. When he stays within the lines, man he is so dangerous, and that's what he's been doing the first week. He's taking his hits the other way and he's driving the ball, but he's keeping everything fair.”
The homer gave the Guardians a comfortable lead, but they weren't done adding on.
Straw finished with his third career four-hit game while Miller added a pair of home runs. With hitting coach Chris Valaika and asssitant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez in their ear, Cleveland has approached the last four games with a simple principle: Make pitchers sweat every single pitch.
“We're all doing it. We have a good approach,” Straw said. “We talk about it every single day. Do a good job on the hitting reports. Victor and Val do a really good job with that and let us know information about the pitchers. We're just taking really good team at-bats right now. That's what we need to keep doing to score some runs.”
The Guardians outscored the Reds, 17-8, in the two-game sweep and have put up a remarkable 44 runs on 58 hits in four straight wins.
“It’s been unbelievable to see,” Miller said of the collective offense. “There’s been a lot of guys that have been having good at-bats right now. It’s really fun to see. It’s a really good environment right now. Getting in the cages, having those conversations with the coaches, the process has been really fun so far. If we can keep that up and keep doing what we know how to do, I think we could really, really give some pitchers trouble this year.
“Especially a guy making his debut today, Lodolo, and understanding that at times he’s going to be a little wild and just making him throw strikes. That’s the name of the game sometimes.”