Photo: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Nothing like two doubleheaders in four days. The Guardians played their third home doubleheader of the season Saturday against the Toronto Blue Jays. The Guardians fell to 1-2 in the first games of doubleheaders as the Blue Jays scored seven runs on starter Shane Bieber and came away with an 8-3 victory. In the second game, the Guardians improved to 3-0 in the second game of doubleheaders as it was the complete opposite of the first. The Guardians destroyed the Blue Jays by a final score of 8-2.
Game 1: Blue Jays (17-11) 8 – Guardians (12-14) 3. WP: Gausman (3-1), LP: Bieber (1-2)
Game 2: Guardians (13-14) 8 – Blue Jays (17-12) 2. WP: McKenzie (2-2), LP: Stripling (0-1)
Blue Jays Finally Able to Hit With Runners in Scoring Position
A surprise to many, but the Toronto Blue Jays were last in the MLB for batting average with runners in scoring position. They were batting just .168 as a team. In game one of the double header, they did not have trouble bringing them home. They were 4-9 as a team with runners in scoring position, with most of them coming in the first four innings and with two outs. Four of their RBI came with two outs, all of those coming in the second inning. They really took it to Guardians ace Shane Bieber in the first game.
“I had a relatively quick first and then the first two in the second,” Bieber said. “I wanted to go out there and continue my momentum. I tried to use my strengths and a pretty good approach at first, but then that kind of doubled up on me and getting ahead of myself.”
Bieber Struggling With 4-seam fastball
One thing more and more people are starting to become aware of as the season goes on is that Guardians ace Shane Bieber has lost some speed on his fastball. Against the Blue Jays in game one of the doubleheader, that was evident. Bieber was never able to touch 91 mph on his four-seamer, with the majority of them sitting around 90.5. His average speed on that pitch during his Cy Young award season in 2020 was 94.1. Last year it dropped to 92.8 miles per hour on average. This year, it dropped again. He’s never has big velocity, but the drop in speed is starting to become a little concerning. Bieber’s stuff was off from the second inning onward. He exited in the fourth inning after allowing seven earned runs on eight hits and three walks. Four of the Blue Jays’ eight hits off of Bieber came on a 4-seam fastball thrown by Bieber. All of them were under 90 miles per hour. For the first time in his career, Bieber did not register a single strikeout in an outing.
“It was just a lack of command,” Bieber said. “I let it get in my head which led to lack of efficiency. Pretty frustrating for me. Just got to be better.”
Bottom of Toronto’s Lineup Crushes Bieber
When you look at the Blue Jays lineup, and you think about how they scored seven runs on eight hits, one would assume that their duo of Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr must have had a big part in it. Surprisingly, they didn’t really. Bichette and Guerrero Jr were a combined 1-3 with an RBI groundout against Bieber. The damage came from the back half of the lineup as well as leadoff man George Springer. Springer was 2-3 with three RBI against Bieber, while ninth hitter Raimel Tapia was 2-2 with 3 RBI as well. Those two accounted for six of the Blue Jays runs, while Bichette’s RBI groundout was the other.
Mistakes by Rookie Outfielders
Sometimes it can be hard to remember that Steven Kwan and Richie Palacios are both rookies in just the second month of the season. In game one, each of them had a few rookie moments. Palacios really struggled in left field in the second inning. With two men on, Raimel Tapia singled on a line drive to Palacios. It seemed like he could’ve possibly made a throw home to beat the runner, but instead didn’t want to risk Tapia advancing and threw it in to José Ramírez. The next batter, George Springer, hit one towards the wall in right that Palacios misjudged, and it bounced off the wall and over his head. He then bobbled picking up the ball at first before throwing it in to short. All of the sudden, it was 4-0 Blue Jays.
In the fifth inning. Tapia once again hit a line drive, this one to Kwan, who tripped at first running towards it, kind of dove at it, and then failed to hang on for the out, and so Tapia ended up with a single and a run scored to make it 5-1. Manager Terry Francona credits the strong wind blowing into a lot of mistakes.
“We had some adventures out there and it was a factor,” Francona said . “It was going to be a factor the entire night, so we just have to be prepared for it.”
Defensive Clinic for Guardians in Game Two
The Guardians defense had a number of clutch plays in the field, whether it was a putout from the outfield, a tagout on a throwback from the catcher, or a diving stop to throw a runner out at first. The first big defensive play come in the first inning when catcher Luke Maile picked off Guerrero Jr. on a throwback to first base. Andrés Giménez had a ton of huge plays at second base. He had a diving stop on a 101.6 mile per hour rocket off the bat of Lourdes Gurriel Jr. that he was able to caress and throw out to keep it a one-run first for Toronto. In the second, Santiago Espinal doubled into center field and attempted to stretch it into a triple, but a nice relay from Oscar Mercado got it into Giménez, who gunned down Espinal at third with Ernie Clement making the tag for the out. In the fifth, Espinal hit a sharp grounder near second base, and Giménez made a beautiful slide to come up with it and then get it to first for the out. McKenzie was impressed with his teammate’s performances.
“Which one?” McKenzie asked about the plays by the defense. “Knowing the guys are gonna go out there and make plays behind me, especially great plays like that. I was kind of shocked at the second one. I wasn’t expecting anyone to be there and then I turned around and he was there. So, I was just happy.”
Giménez said that he was just reacting to the play in front of him.
“I just reacted,” Giménez said. “I was in my setup and just reacted to the play and came up with it.”
Maile also had another big play in the third when after Triston McKenzie struck out Guerrero Jr., he then gunned it down to second for Giménez who then tossed it back to first to get Springer, who was attempting to steal for a 2-4-3 double play.
McKenzie Starting to Come Into His Own
The Guardian’s former top pitching prospect has been living up to that potential recently, especially in his last few games. After pitching 6.1 shutout innings against Oakland last week, “Sticks” followed that up with arguably an even better performance. Against a Blue Jays lineup that added 2021 All-Star Teoscar Hernández to an already impressive bunch, McKenzie wasn’t fazed at all and threw a solid six innings, giving up four hits, two earned runs and struck out six on 102 pitches, 68 of them being strikes. His ERA now sits at 2.70 and he becomes the only one of the Guardians starters to have a winning record.
“Even from first pitch, I think we had a plan that we executed,” McKenzie said. “We just had to lock down and figure it out.”
Lets Play Doubles
The Guardians are currently ranked fourth in the majors with 49 doubles on the season, three of those came in game two of the double header. José Ramírez got the first in his first-at-bat of the game when he hit a ball that carried over the head of Hernández and dropped into right field. Hernández had trouble finding it in the sun and assumed the wind was going to blow it back, but it didn’t. The next man up, Owen Miller, recorded his 10th double of the year that brought home Ramírez and Steven Kwan to give Cleveland a 2-1 lead, which they never squandered after that. In the sixth, Luke Maile got his fourth double of the year, this one to the left field corner, which scored Oscar Mercado and made it 6-2.
Not only has Giménez been stellar in the field, his hitting the past two weeks has been even better. Over his last nine games, Giménez has 14 hits, and is batting .466 with a jp,er and nine RBI. He is second on the team in batting average with .348 this season. After a very bad stretch a week and a half ago and a slow start to the season, Franmil Reyes has found a groove. With a home run and a single in game two of the double header, Reyes has nine hits and five RBI over his last five games. Myles Straw continues to be that good leadoff man the Guardians need him to be as in game one, Straw recorded his seventh hit in his last eight games.
As a team, the Guardians are starting to score more runs against teams with winning records. The team scored six or more runs for the third time in four games against teams with a winning record (Padres and Blue Jays) and moved into second in MLB in team RBI with 126, two behind the Milwaukee Brewers.
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