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KANSAS CITY – Saturday was exactly what the doctor ordered for the Guardians.
A team that had been on a hot streak was humbled quickly over the last two weeks, dropping 12 out of its last 16 contests and carrying a five-game losing streak entering Saturday afternoon. In desperate need of a spark, the Guardians finally caught fire, dominating the Royals in a 13-1 victory at Kauffman Stadium.
“I think it’s just a big confidence [boost] on everybody,” Guardians outfielder Steven Kwan said. “We’ve been barreling balls I think and just haven’t been finding holes. So, today, we were hitting the balls hard, they found the holes and I think hitting’s contagious, so hopefully we keep going.”
Cleveland racked up its 13 runs on 23 hits, marking the seventh time since 1953 the club has logged that many hits in a single contest and the first since Aug. 15, 2019, in a 19-5 win over the Yankees. Each hitter in the Guardians’ starting lineup recorded at least one hit Saturday and, maybe most importantly, slugger Jos? Ram?rez‘s bat showed signs of life.
The Guardians struggle to stay hot when Ram?rez isn’t producing offensively. While the team has been able to turn to Andr?s Gim?nez pretty consistently this season, no one has been able to fill a sparkplug type of role like Ram?rez. And during the team’s 4-12 stretch heading into Saturday, Ram?rez hit just .214 with a .602 OPS.
Ram?rez’s three-hit afternoon against the Royals was his first multihit effort since June 26. He also recorded his first RBI since June 25 (even though he’s still leading the American League in that category) and smacked his first homer in 102 plate appearances. That 24-game stretch without a long ball was his longest since going homerless in 29 consecutive games in 2019.
Ram?rez is crucial in keeping the Guardians within striking distance of the Twins. Although Cleveland boasts a .500 record (41-41), it still sits just 3 1/2 games out of first place in the American League Central. And as long as this young team can keep bouncing back from the hiccups it’s inevitably going to run into (like it just did over the last two weeks), it has a chance to remain in playoff contention.
“We’re fortunate that we’re in the division we’re in and if we play good baseball, we probably have a reason to be nervous later in the year, which is a good thing,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said entering this series. “Our guys are still learning. They’re still learning what it takes. Part of it, I think they might have talked themselves into being a little tired last week. Frustration makes you more tired.”
The Guardians are still learning how good they can be this season. The next few weeks could play a large role in determining who the club may target at the Trade Deadline. It’s clear that this inexperienced roster may encounter more struggles than powerhouses like the Yankees or Astros, but it may learn over the next month that it still has a decent chance at securing a postseason spot.
“I didn’t want to downplay when we were, what, 16-4 because I was happy,” Francona said on Friday. “I also don’t think that it was realistic we were gonna play the rest of the year at that pace. What you want to stay away from is getting swept sometimes and that’s what really hurts is when that happens. We played some good teams. We go to Detroit and we just didn’t play very good baseball. That happens. It’s not very much fun, but it happens.”
Now, the Guardians have another new bat to evaluate that can possibly play a key role in their success moving forward. Nolan Jones has gone 4-for-7 in his first two games with a three-run bomb — which went a whopping 457 feet — on Saturday.
Like the rest of the young players who have made their way to the big leagues this season, Jones will also go through his own rough patches. But if this group of young players can follow Ram?rez’s lead the rest of the way, the postseason won’t be completely out of reach.
“It was good for our guys,” Francona said of the offensive outburst. “They can breathe a little bit. I was happy for them. It’s been a rough go. It doesn’t guarantee anything tomorrow, but good for them today. It should help.”