Image: USA Today

A postponement and 20-minute delay to Sunday’s game seemed to get the best of the Guardians as they couldn’t take advantage of a couple of opportunities throughout the game, which came back to bite them in the end as they fell 4-2 to the Detroit Tigers, their sixth loss in the last eight games. 

Tigers (14-26) 4 – Guardians (17-20) 2. WP: Alex Faedo (1-1), LP: Shane Bieber (1-3), SV: Gregory Soto (7) 

Lineup Can’t  Take Advantage of Opportunties

Not too long ago, the Guardians were in the top five in the MLB in runs scored. A surprise to many, but a welcome one. However, as of Sunday, they’ve dropped to 15th, right at the midway point with 171. Not to mention, they’ve dropped to 21st in hits. Sunday against the Tigers was another in a line of games with not many hits or runs for the Guardians recently. Cleveland has dropped six out of their last eight and scored 27 runs, or about 3.38 runs per game. Take away the eight runs scored against the Twins in their 12-8 loss on May 13, and that’s an average of 2.71 runs in seven games. The Guardians know it’s been tough for them, but they do like how they’ve been in every game.

“We’re never out of a ballgame,” starting pitcher Shane Bieber pointed out. “Whether it’s eight runs or two. That’s how I feel confident and we’re confident in the dugout and the clubhouse. We’re going to go through stretches, we just got to pick each other up.”

 The Guardians have had a chance to win in all six of their losses over the past week and a half. In four of the games, they’ve had an opportunity where the bases were loaded. They’ve managed just one run in those four opportunities. Sunday, it happened in the first inning. Cleveland loaded the bases with one out and two of their best power hitters, Josh Naylor and Franmil Reyes, we’re the next two up. Neither of them was able to advance any of the runners, and so the score remained 1-1.

“We play a lot of close games.” Francona explained. “There were three balls today that, you know, they bring back one, Franmil (Reyes) hits two deep ones, that’s six. There’s going to be ups and downs. That’s part of the game. That’s part of how we can be a good team. We have to find all the combinations and be sound defensively.”

Baseball is a game of stretches. Some days you can hit the cover off the ball, and everyone can get on base. Other times, no one can seem to get on base consistently and the bat feels like it weighs three tons on your shoulder. Unfortunately for the Guardians, they haven’t been able to take full advantage of the opportunities in front of them recently. 

 Bieber’s Pitching Performance 

Shane Bieber took the mound for his eighth start of the season, and subsequently his ninth start against the Tigers in his career. Bieber had one of his vintage performances in the strikeout column as he registered 10+ strikeouts for the 22nd time in his career, the fourth pitcher in franchise history to reach that mark before his 27th birthday, joining Herb Score, Bob Feller and Sam McDowell. While his velocity wasn’t high, with his 4-seamer only hitting 90.4 on average, his command was better, although it didn’t start out that way, as Bieber walked the first batter he saw and have up two runs in the first two innings, both of them coming off of his slider.

“I’m frustrated with myself for the first few runs because of self-induced walks,” Bieber said. “Frustrated it ended up in a team loss. You just got to take the good with the bad and move forward.”

Bieber got behind early on in counts the first couple of innings but worked out of it and was able to find a rhythm.

 “I feel like I rely on rhythm a lot and wasn’t able to find that early on,” Bieber said. “I’ve kind of been struggling to find that at this point and the beginning of the season. I felt like I had to get myself under control and start to get ahead of hitters because when you start at 1-0, 2-0, 2-1 you’re at a serious disadvantage.”

After the first two innings, Bieber started getting ahead of counts, getting better command and grip of the ball and struck out five batters over the fifth and sixth inning. 

“Command was a big of a challenge for him early on,” Francona admitted. “He then rolled back a little bit and became really efficient after that. He’s such a good pitcher that even after a couple early, he came back.”

The fifth inning turned out to be important because while the Tigers did eventually score their winning run, Bieber worked himself out of a jam for the second time in as many starts and kept the lead at one by striking out Miguel Cabrera, keeping it a one run game and giving Cleveland a much easier hill to climb for a potential comeback.

Couple Mistakes Is All It Takes

In the close games that Cleveland has found itself in recently, you can pinpoint little mistakes that proved to be costly to them and a factor in why they lost. Against the White Sox a week ago, it was a dropped pop fly in foul territory by José Ramírez, that led to a Gavin Sheets 2-run home run the very next pitch. Against the Twins on May 13, it was a nine run fifth inning by Minnesota, punctuated by a Grand Slam by Royce Lewis and a three-run home run by Gary Sanchez, both with two outs. Against the Reds on May 17, it was Ramírez striking out with the bases loaded down one in the bottom of the 10th or the bullpen failing to keep the game tied or the deficit to one run. 

Sunday, you could pinpoint the no runs with the bases loaded in the first. Or a fielding error by Josh Naylor at first that allowed the Tigers to go back up by one run, or a home run given up by Bryan Shaw to Javier Báez in the 8th inning that extended the Tigers lead to 4-2. It’s little things like that, avoidable moments if you will, that have ultimately been a huge factor as to why the Guardians have dropped six out of their last eight. 

Rainouts Cause Problems

Cleveland has never been known for its nice weather. Even today’s game was delayed, albeit for twenty minutes and first pitch was at 2:00 p.m. instead of 1:40. However, they’ve had six home games postponed due to inclement weather already and it’s not even the end of May. Rainouts and postponements are part of the game, and you will always have one, especially if you play in a stadium without a roof. While it can be frustrating for fans, it’s even more so for pitchers and batters, because the extra time to wait can be a killer for their momentum and energy.

“I feel like everybody’s getting more comfortable,” Bieber explained. “I know the last few weeks have been kind of difficult, not being on a consistent five-day routine and having to wait a little bit longer.”

Delays can be just as counterproductive because on a postponement, you at least get a long time, a whole other day to prepare. For a delay, you know the game will be that day, but you have to change your routine and having to warm up again is one of the biggest sore eyes for pitchers because it can get throw them off their rhythm. 

 Frustrating Home Stand

After a 2-3 road trip with the Twins and White Sox, the Guardians sat three games behind Minnesota in the AL Central. Not the best record you were hoping for, but looking ahead at the home stand, you saw that the Reds, the team with the poorest record in the MLB, and the Tigers, the AL’s poorest record, were the two teams coming to town. The consensus all around was that the Guardians need and should take four of the five games because of how poorly the teams had been playing. Well, baseball is a weird game, and while one game was postponed, the Guardians dropped both games to the Reds and split two games with Detroit, for a 1-3 home stand. That was the last thing people were expecting and probably the most frustrating thing that could have happened for fans. 

Upcoming Series with First-place Astros 

The worst part about the homestand loss is that the team they’re traveling to play for a three-game series, just so happens to be one of the hottest teams in baseball. The Houston Astros, who have made the World Series three out of the last five seasons and five consecutive trips to the ALCS, have won 16 of their last 20 games, led in most part by their fierce slugger Yordan Álvarez and rookie shortstop Jeremy Peña, both of whom are just 24 years old. The Guardians aren’t’ expected to do much with this series, which is the perfect time for them to turn it around, as right after that, they have a 20-game stretch where they play teams that currently have losing records. It’s a tough start to a stretch, but they have the ability to make up some ground going forward.

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