Can Cleveland sustain success in 2nd half? … ‘We’re going to do it’

June 30th, 2024

KANSAS CITY — The Guardians know this seven-game road trip could’ve turned out much worse, given the difficulty in opponents, but they also know it could’ve ended better. And Sunday afternoon was a reminder of how fine of a line there is between excellence and adequacy in this game.

One win (along with a Phillies loss) and the Guardians would’ve ended the month as the best team in baseball. This would’ve been the first time Cleveland ended June with the best record since 1999. It also would’ve meant that the four-game series ended in a split, essentially wiping out any of the progress the Royals made in the AL Central standings.

Plus, the road trip would’ve been an enormous success, taking two of three from the red-hot Orioles and then two of four against a challenging division foe.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, the Guardians fell, 6-2, to the Royals at Kauffman Stadium. Cleveland does not own the best record in the Majors. Kansas City gained three games in the standings to be seven games back with half of the season left to play and seven matchups remaining between the two clubs.

“This 13-game stretch [with no days off] could have gone a very different direction for us,” manager Stephen Vogt said. “So I’m really proud of the way our guys played. We know we need to win more games and we’re going to do it.”

The first half of the season ended after Saturday’s win and the Guardians couldn’t have wrapped up the first 50 percent of their games in a better, more dominant fashion than they did. They leaped over hurdles presented by injuries, they relied on their typical small-ball approach, while incorporating more power into their game and they leaned heavily on the best bullpen in the Majors to help create a comfortable lead in first place of the division.

To paint a clearer picture of just how much this offense has improved, here’s a look at the differences in power numbers through the first half of 2023 and ‘24:

Homers2023: 30th in the Majors, 54 homers2024: 10th, 95

Runs scored2023: 27th, 3222024: 6th, 405

Slugging percentage2023: 26th, .3752024: Tied for 9th, .412

wRC+2023: 24th, 912024: 9th, 109

“I just think we have a good club, top to bottom, pitching, bullpen, offense, defense,” Guardians starter Logan Allen said. “We’re a complete team. I’m excited to keep it rolling.”

Yes, the offense was shut down by Royals starter Seth Lugo on Sunday, but the Guardians know those days will happen. It wasn’t their most explosive series overall, but no one in the clubhouse is doubting that they’ll rediscover their groove at Progressive Field starting on Tuesday against the White Sox.

“The season is not going to be perfect,” Guardians second baseman Andrés Giménez said. “You’re going to have a bad series. You’re going to have to go through that, stay positive and try to play better the next couple of series.”

As much as we learned about the relentlessness of this Cleveland lineup in the first half of the season, we also learned that this rotation has some major holes.

It wasn’t as detrimental on Sunday since Allen was only charged with three runs, but he still was pulled in the fifth inning. Vogt thought Allen had to battle hard through the first 4 1/3 frames and figured it was best to turn to the ‘pen for the heart of Kansas City’s order.

The Guardians have struggled to get length from their starters, which has caused a heavy burden to be placed on the bullpen.

This is the same day that the team learned that starter Triston McKenzie, who was expected to be one of the veteran leaders in this rotation, was optioned to Triple-A Columbus to try to get himself straightened out after a handful of consecutive rocky starts. Although Cleveland now has Gavin Williams back in the mix, it’s hard to know what to expect from someone who hasn’t competed in a Major League game yet this year.

The offense has undoubtedly improved from last year. But the rotation has taken a step back. Can the Guardians continue to overcome this hurdle through the second half of the season? Is the bullpen’s success sustainable if this type of workload continues?

We’ll have to wait to find out. But the Cleveland clubhouse is confident that one loss to start the second half of the season won’t change anything.

“We were playing relentlessly,” Giménez said. “We never stopped believing in ourselves and I feel like we’re going to continue in that way.”