Guardians’ playoff obstacles highlighted in finale

32 minutes ago

CLEVELAND — The Guardians proved that they can compete with winning teams last week with series victories over the Dodgers and Twins, but a three-game set against the Red Sox at Progressive Field highlighted a handful of obstacles the team will have to continue to navigate this season if it wants to be a contender.

Since taking seven of nine games on their tricky three-city road trip, the Guardians have been unable to plate more than three runs in a game, as Sunday’s 8-3 loss capped off the team’s first time getting swept by Boston at home since April 16-18, 2013.

The main focus of this roster is its youth. It’s been the focal point of the team since the front office did not make any big offseason signings heading into the season. That approach brings a lot of enthusiasm, and we saw what that can create over Cleveland’s hot road trip. But the problem that will continue to bubble up is inexperience, as it did on Sunday.

The Guardians are lacking a lot of experience at first base. This may be less about the age of their first basemen and more about the time played at the position. Owen Miller hadn’t played first until last season. Josh Naylor had experience at first base, but spent most of his big league career in the outfield before coming back to first on a regular basis. But with a position that’s involved in nearly every play, those mistakes become more glaring as the season continues.

Entering the day, the Guardians had seven errors from its first basemen, which was tied for the most in the Majors. While no miscue on Sunday was marked down as an error on Miller, he admitted there were plays he should’ve come up with, and has put his lack of experience at the position on full display a handful of times this season.

The Guardians have said since the start of Spring Training that they’ll need to play sound defense and run the bases perfectly so that their scrappy lineup can contend against any opponent. Because of some difficulty tracking fly balls, a throwing error on Andr?s Gim?nez and the bumps Miller endured, it was clear this mantra is one that has to be followed.

“It certainly magnifies it,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “I don’t want to take anything away from [the Red Sox], they hit the ball pretty hard today. But when we’re making plays [we’re in a better spot]. We got doubled off on a line drive; that was huge.”

The Guardians watched their pitchers issue 22 walks since the Red Sox came to town on Friday — the most the team has walked in a three-game series since June 11-13, 2004. While the starting staff hasn’t been as dominant as we’ve seen it been in the past few years, it’s done enough to be effective and the bullpen has outperformed everyone’s expectations. But this series could be a small preview into why the team may look to add a bullpen arm at the Trade Deadline if it’s still in contention to try to add a little more depth and experience to a young relief corps.

But even though the offense went through its coldest stretch in the last month, the team proved to itself that it can beat teams with sub-.500 records and those who are projected to be playoff contenders. The confidence in the Guardians’ clubhouse hasn’t waned and it’s vital for Cleveland to turn the page quickly in order to focus on a critical five-game series against the first-place Twins at Progressive Field, beginning on Monday.

Baseball is a game of ebbs and flows, and one bad series against a hot team won’t set the Guardians back. It’s preventing the snowball effect that’s key to making sure a club that’s essentially in a rebuilding season can still hang with the top teams in the Majors.

“We can lock it back here against Minnesota,” Miller said. “We played them tough last week and [can] get it rolling, get some good pitching, play some good defense and get the boys back to doing what we do and scoring runs on offense.”

“I think we just have to trust that we’re good enough to compete with anybody,” Guardians starter Aaron Civale said. “Can’t dwell too long on what just happened. I think we’ll be able to shake it pretty quickly and move forward.”