This story was excerpted from Mandy Bell’s Guardians Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.
So, now what?
The Guardians have all but solidified that their October schedule will end on the first of the month. They had one last chance to make a push in the AL Central division race with a three-game set against the first-place Twins this week, and, instead, Minnesota won the first two and its lead grew from five to seven games.
How Cleveland lost made it harder for the organization and its fans to swallow. Getting annihilated 20-6 on Monday night was the worst tone-setter possible for the Guardians. And an 8-3 loss on Tuesday, after the game had been close through seven innings, was yet another gut punch.
So, with the Guardians’ playoff hopes quickly slipping away, what’s left? The biggest thing will be trying to learn something about this roster for the future every game. And on Tuesday, the Guardians saw more evidence that Tanner Bibee has got the potential to be a very good starter for this rotation.
Having flashy stuff or racking up strikeouts are obviously factors that indicate a pitcher may have a successful future. But it’s days when he doesn’t have pinpoint location or doesn’t have his best fastball that really define a pitcher. And that’s exactly what Bibee showed on Tuesday against the Twins.
Bibee struggled to find the strike zone. His career-high five walks made that clear. Yet he navigated the traffic to allow just two runs and four hits in five innings in a must-win game for the Guardians. No, the team didn’t come out victorious, but Bibee gave his offense a chance to get in the win column. And after a two-run homer by Bo Naylor and a sacrifice fly by Myles Straw, Bibee exited the game with a one-run lead.
“Just trying to be gritty, I guess,” Bibee said. “Nothing particularly was good. A lot of stuff was not where it needed to be. But yeah, got through five [innings] somehow.”
His fastball velocity averaged 1.9 mph slower than it has all season. His slider, curve and changeup each had a slight dip in velocity, too. He noted multiple times after the game how it was a difficult day for him all around, but he still managed to get his job done. For any pitcher -- let alone a rookie -- this is a difficult feat to accomplish. It’s these types of “gritty” starts that truly indicate Bibee's potential.
“The good part was he competed like crazy because I didn’t think he had his best stuff nor his best command,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “But he competes like crazy and that’s a great quality.”
Bibee has had an impressive rookie season. Including his latest outing, he's thrown at least five innings and allowed three or fewer runs in 21 of his 23 starts. That is tied for the most in MLB history to start a career with Aaron Sele (1993-94) and Gerrit Cole (2013-14). His 3.05 ERA ranks fourth (minimum 15 games started), and his 129 strikeouts rank fifth in franchise history through 23 career games.
The Guardians have gotten a good preview of what to expect from the 24-year-old righty moving forward. Now, they have to spend the last few weeks trying to make sure he’s not overworked. His 145 innings pitched between the Minors and Majors this season is already a career high. It’s the biggest reason why he wasn’t sent back to the mound for the sixth inning on Tuesday after throwing 87 pitches.
“He was at close to 90,” Francona said. “It was hard. Asking him to go back out, man, I’m having a hard time with that.”
Everything else with Bibee has come easily. He’s had stretches when he's looked like an AL Rookie of the Year candidate. He’s shown growth from outing to outing. And with a rotation that lost each of its starters on Opening Day for at least some portion of the season, he has stepped up to lead the way.
The playoffs are quickly getting out of reach, but the Guardians have plenty to learn in the final weeks of the regular season. And Bibee is giving them more than enough reasons to be excited for 2024.