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KANSAS CITY — The Guardians’ clubhouse had quite the different vibe at the end of this road trip compared to last.
Cleveland had been riding a high, going 7-2 during its last stretch away from home as part of an exciting 17-4 run for a team that was projected to be near the bottom of the division heading into the season. The Guardians were drawing attention, but just as eyes started to turn toward them, the club ran out of gas, dropping six of its last seven games, punctuated with a 5-1 loss to the Royals at Kauffman Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
“It’s tough dude,” Guardians starter Zach Plesac said. “It sucks.”
Let’s take a look at the biggest differences in the Guardians’ performance during this skid:
1. Lack of offense
Aside from Saturday’s random outburst of 13 runs and 23 hits, the Guardians’ offense was quiet during this 1-6 road trip. Cleveland scored a total of 14 runs over its last six losses. And while Myles Straw has started to make strides in the right direction and Steven Kwan has been solid at the top of the order, the inconsistency of Franmil Reyes and the cold stretch Jos? Ram?rez has fallen into has been difficult for the team to overcome.
2. Overtaxed bullpen
The Guardians have emphasized plenty of times that they’re not going to use their rigorous schedule as an excuse for losing, but it’s clear that all the doubleheaders they’ve played over the last week (with another coming up on Tuesday) has played a role in the team’s fatigue, especially the bullpen.
Prior to this past Thursday’s off-day, the Guardians played 18 games in 15 days. Maybe the rest heading into the three-game set in Kansas City helped Cleveland muster the energy to rack up 13 runs on 23 hits on Saturday, but it certainly wasn’t enough to keep that momentum rolling into the series finale. And if anyone has been affected most by this stretch, it’s the bullpen.
Entering Sunday, the Guardians’ bullpen had posted an 8.10 ERA during this road trip, which was the worst in the Majors in that span. Sunday’s one run allowed by the relief corps in three frames helped lower that number down to 7.32, but it’s far from the success they had earlier in the year.
The bullpen is missing veterans. Aside from Bryan Shaw, the most experienced reliever the Guardians have is Emmanuel Clase, who was a rookie just last season. And with James Karinchak still trying to get back into his old form, Eli Morgan experiencing a hiccup this week and Sam Hentges struggling to get in the rhythm he had at the beginning of the season, the Guardians had a difficult time finding arms to turn to throughout this stretch.
While offense (especially from behind the plate) and a starting pitcher may be the main focus heading into the Trade Deadline, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Cleveland get some help in the ‘pen before Aug. 2.
3. Sloppy play
Since the beginning of Spring Training, the Guardians have said the same thing: They have to play sound defense and run the bases perfectly (or as close to perfectly as possible) in order to win games. This approach is what carried the club through its 17-4 stretch, considering nine of those games were won by one or two runs.
But as the Guardians have begun to show signs of fatigue as they crawl toward the first-half finish line, the efficiency of their play has slipped. The team has recorded at least one error in 10 consecutive games — something it hasn’t done since 2011. And there have been a handful of miscues that have occurred from inexperience that haven’t shown up in the box score.
With divisional play continuing on Monday with a five-game set against the White Sox scheduled over the next four days, the Guardians don’t have much time to regroup. But if they’re looking to close out the first half of the regular season on a stronger note, the fundamentals will be the biggest thing for them to focus on.
“We’ve been saying the whole year, we’re not gonna be a team that rolls the balls and bats out and be able to beat teams,” Plesac said. “We got to do things the right way. We got to make sure who’s on base, make sure who’s running at the plate, make sure all around fundamentally got to be sound. So, it’s something we just got to be better at, I feel like, moving forward.”