Guardians offense looking for funk-breaking spark

In the thick of a postseason battle, Cleveland hitters are struggling

September 4th, 2022

CLEVELAND -- A thunderous round of applause overtook Progressive Field as the score of the Twins game was flashed on the big screen.

The Guardians were losing and it didn’t get any better the rest of the evening, as Cleveland eventually fell, 4-0, to Seattle on Saturday night. But the silver lining for fans was that the Twins were behind by 13 runs and getting no-hit entering the ninth inning with no chance of making a comeback.

But the question is, how much longer can that serve as the silver lining? Sure, the Guardians can continue to hold a one-game lead over the Twins in the American League Central for at least another night. But suddenly, the White Sox, who were on the winning end of the Twins’ loss on Saturday, have come charging back into the race.

At the beginning of the week, the Twins were just two games behind the Guardians and the White Sox had fallen back five games. Now, heading into Sunday, Cleveland owns a one-game lead over Minnesota and a two-game lead over Chicago -- at a time when the Guardians have hit their rockiest stretch of the season.

Over the last four games, the Guardians have plated just one run. It marks the first time since July 3-6, 1961, that the club has scored just one run in a four-game span. They’ve plated 13 runs over their last nine games, and have been shut out in five of their last 12 contests.

“If there was a pill [to fix the slump], I’d give it out,” manager Terry Francona said. “If yelling [would end the slump], I’d yell. I think the best thing we can do as a staff is be consistent and be supportive, and guys just have to fight through it, because it’s not a lot of fun.”

This isn’t the first time the Guardians have had to fight through struggles this season. With a lineup full of rookies, the team has ebbed and flowed since the beginning of the year. The difference was that players like José Ramírez, Amed Rosario, Steven Kwan, Andrés Giménez and Oscar Gonzalez had been so reliable that whenever one was slumping, someone else always stepped up to get the job done. Now, they’ve collectively hit a wall.

Ramírez is hitting .206 (7-for-34) with three RBIs in his last nine games. Rosario is batting .225 with a .488 OPS since the start of the Guardians' last road trip on Aug. 23. Over that same span, the oft-reliable Kwan is batting .231, Giménez is batting .229, and Gonzalez is batting.159.

It’s reached the point in the season when fatigue may be setting in. A player like Rosario, who has just two hits in his last 19 at-bats, was given a day off Saturday to try to combat the kind of exhaustion that comes with having more than 130 games in the rearview mirror.

“He plays so hard, and just talking to him, he needed it,” Francona said before the game. “It’s hard when guys are good and you rely on them, but I think if you wait too long, it’s not fair to the players.”

Maybe fatigue is setting in, but it’s something that doesn’t need to ruin the Guardians’ season if they can find their missing spark plug.

“I think it’s just baseball,” Kwan said. “A lot of variance with it. Some barrels are finding guys and obviously today, [the Mariners] jammed some balls and they found some holes. I think it’s baseball.”

The real silver lining during this rough stretch is that the offense is still racking up hits. Cleveland is now the ninth team in the Live Ball Era (since 1920) to record one run or fewer over a four-game span but also tally at least 25 hits.

“I think it’s just not getting that big hit, for sure,” Kwan said. “I think we’re putting ourselves in a really good spot. We’re just not getting that one hit.”

The vibe in the Guardians clubhouse isn’t much different than it was last week when they were fresh off of a two-game sweep of the Padres. Francona hasn’t noticed any of his young players gripping their bats any tighter, and the hitters are confident that the breakout is just around the corner.

“No one’s showing up to not score and lose,” Francona said. “But the only way I know to do it right is to just keep fighting and keep clawing and don’t give up.”