Guardians face the great divide on long trip

April 29th, 2022

ANAHEIM -- This isn’t how the Guardians were expecting their time away from Cleveland to go.

Two stops on their three-city road trip are complete, and the Guardians have yet to pick up a win in seven games. The Angels completed a four-game sweep -- their first four-game sweep of Cleveland in six chances since 1997 -- by handing the Guardians a 4-1 loss on Thursday afternoon at Angel Stadium, extending Cleveland’s losing streak to seven games.

It was the same story on Thursday as it has been for nearly every loss this season: The offense struggled to pick up steam and the pitching staff couldn’t fend off opposing bats enough to keep the waning Cleveland offense in contention.

It has been evident how streaky the Guardians have been in the early season, sweeping two series while also having been swept in three. The longer this continues, the more an underlying trend presents itself beyond just this hot-and-cold pattern.

With their latest defeat, the Guardians are now 0-10 against teams that boasted a .500 or better record as of Thursday afternoon. They are the only team remaining without at least one victory against a club with a winning record this year.

“We've just got to battle for everything we get,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said, “because right now, nothing's easy.”

The fact that Cleveland has struggled to plate runs this year isn’t surprising, and, obviously, the better the opponent, the more difficult it will be for any team -- especially one that’s in the middle of a transition period like the Guardians -- to secure victories.

But the club said from the start of Spring Training that it didn’t want its youth to be an excuse for any hiccups along the way, and now it has to face the reality of the situation it’s found itself in.

Here’s a look at the differences between the offense against sub-.500 teams and winning clubs:

Vs. sub-.500 teams: .307 BA, .865 OPS, 69 K’s, 31 BB,.372 BABIP
Vs. winning clubs: .185 BA, .535 OPS, 88 K’s, 21 BB, .236 BABIP

The way Cleveland has exploded against teams with losing records has allowed it to still rank relatively favorably in offensive categories. Entering Thursday, the team still owned the seventh-best slugging percentage (.405), the ninth-highest wRC+ (113) and the ninth-most RBIs (80, thanks to an MLB-best 25 from José Ramírez). But when the Guardians play winning teams, the bats have nearly gone silent, averaging just under two runs per game against those clubs (18 runs, 10 losses).

The offensive skid can be frustrating, but it’s not overwhelmingly shocking based on the expectations the club had coming into 2022 based on the reputation built from the last few years.

But what’s been more surprising is the way the pitching staff has also struggled against better competition.

We knew coming into the year that the bullpen was largely unproven, considering the arm with the most experience after 34-year-old Bryan Shaw (701 appearances) is 24-year-old Emmanuel Clase (99 appearances), but it has still managed to rank in the top half of the Majors with a 3.54 ERA entering the series finale in Anaheim.

And even though the starting rotation wasn’t stretched out nearly as far as it usually would be at the end of Spring Training, it was easy to believe that the group of Shane Bieber, Triston McKenzie, Zach Plesac, Cal Quantrill and Aaron Civale would still be rather dominant. So far, the pitching staff as a whole has lived up to the hype against sub-.500 teams, but just like the offense, has struggled against winning clubs.

Vs. sub-.500 teams: 2.36 ERA, 19 BB, 67 K’s, 0.913 WHIP, .191 opponent BA, 4 HR
Vs. winning clubs: 5.27 ERA, 32 BB, 78 K’s, 1.446 WHIP, .270 opponent BA, 15 HR

On top of the battles both the pitching staff and hitters have gone through this season, the defense has also gone through hot-and-cold streaks, as young players continue to settle in at the big league level. Not everything can change overnight. Sound defense, putting the ball in play, hitters seeing more pitches and making more solid contact will all slowly begin to right the ship. And the team is hoping Friday in Oakland will be the start of getting things going in the right direction.

“Sometimes, we hit some balls hard at people,” Francona said. “We're going to have to continue doing that and not fall into feeling sorry for ourselves and keep battling, because that's the only way that it'll get better.”