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Cleveland Guardians Series Preview: Good pitching, but can they hit?

This team should have spent more money to boost an offense that could be their biggest problem.

MLB: Spring Training-Cleveland Guardians at Oakland Athletics Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

It’s going to be tough to remember to type Guardians probably for about a year before we get used to it. And boy oh boy, the Guardians could be a heck of a team. Their starting rotation has the kind of upside to be the best in the league. Their bullpen can protect leads. They have a perennial MVP candidate playing third base for them and a massive DH along with a couple other solid pieces on offense. That is a perfect recipe to go out and get a bat or two. Kyle Schwarber or Nick Castellanos would have looked good. Kris Bryant too. Maybe an Anthony Rizzo type to play first or even a guy like Mark Canha. But nope, even with the extension they agreed to with Jose Ramirez, their payroll should have left plenty of room to take them from wherever they’ll be to likely the best team in the division. But, like I said, even with the cheap nature, they’re formidable and a team the Royals struggled with mightily last season.

Royals vs. Guardians Matchup Stats

Category Royals Gurardians
Category Royals Gurardians
Winning % .457 .494
H2H Wins 5 14
Team wRC+ 89 93
Team xFIP 4.52 4.27
Run Differential -24 -10
Highest Returning fWAR Nicky Lopez, 4.4 Jose Ramirez, 6.3

Guardians Projected Lineup

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Myles Straw CF 638 .271 .349 .348 10.5% 19.0% 98 3.7
Amed Rosario LF 588 .282 .321 .409 5.3% 20.4% 99 2.7
Jose Ramirez 3B 636 .266 .355 .538 11.3% 13.7% 137 6.3
Franmil Reyes DH 466 .254 .324 .522 9.2% 32.0% 125 1.3
Bobby Bradley 1B 279 .208 .294 .445 9.0% 35.5% 99 0.3
Andres Gimenez SS 210 .218 .282 .351 5.2% 25.7% 73 0.8
Yu Chang 2B 251 .228 .267 .426 4.4% 27.5% 85 0.4
Bradley Zimmer RF 348 .227 .325 .344 8.6% 35.1% 89 1.1
Austin Hedges C 312 .178 .220 .308 4.8% 27.9% 40 0.1

Guardians Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Bryan Lavastida (minors) C 338 .289 .380 .456 11.8% 20.1% 128 ---
Steven Kwan (minors) INF/OF 341 .328 .407 .527 10.6% 9.1 154 ---
Ernie Clement INF/OF 133 .231 .285 .339 5.3% 14.3% 72 0.3
Owen Miller INF/OF 202 .204 .243 .309 4.5% 26.7% 49 -1.1
Oscar Mercado OF 238 .224 .300 .369 8.8% 17.6% 84 0.6

Guardians Key Relievers

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Emmanuel Clase 71 69.2 4 5 26.5% 5.7% 1.29 2.60 2.2
Bryan Shaw 81 77.1 6 7 21.3% 11.4% 3.49 4.40 -0.1
Nick Sandlin 34 33.2 1 1 34.0% 12.1% 2.94 3.71 0.6

April 7 - Shane Bieber vs. Zack Greinke, 3:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Shane Bieber 16 96.2 7 4 33.1% 8.1% 3.17 2.91 2.6
Zack Greinke 30 171.0 11 6 17.2% 5.2% 4.16 4.21 1.3

Bieber comes at hitters with a three-pitch mix that can add two pitches very occasionally. His fastball velocity spiked in 2020 to just above 94, but came back to the 93 or so that he’d averaged in previous seasons. His curve and slider are incredible weapons with whiff rates above 40 percent for both pitches. He’ll occasionally work in a changeup and a cutter to lefties. Bieber missed a lot of time last season, but came back for two short starts at the end of the season where he pitched pretty well, including once against the Royals. His walk rate jumped some from his magical 2020 season, so that’s likely to be the difference in another Cy Young-type year vs. just another solid All-Star-type year.

Career vs. KC: 10 GS, 4-0, 3.65 ERA


Greinke returns to the Royals after going 159-65 with a 3.19 ERA in 320 games since leaving. He’s not the same guy he was in 2009 when he was dazzling Royals fans with his Cy Young win and he’s not even the same guy from 2015 when he had a 1.66 ERA and would have won the Cy Young if not for Jake Arrieta. Luckily he has the guile to succeed without the big velocity. He has averaged 90-91 on his fastball this spring which is up from last year and he was having a very nice season before missing time with Covid, so hopefully he can get back to what he did from April through mid-August when he had an ERA in the mid-3s and was averaging about six innings per start. It’ll be good to see Greinke back on the mound in a Royals uniform.

Career vs. CLE: 31 G, 26 GS, 11-9, 3.73 ERA

April 9 - Zach Plesac vs. Brad Keller, 3:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Zach Plesac 25 142.2 10 6 16.7% 5.7% 4.67 4.77 1.1
Brad Keller 26 133.2 8 12 19.6% 10.4% 5.39 4.57 1.1

Plesac features a four-pitch mix that he hasn’t altered a ton throughout his big league career. He has a four-seamer that sits around 92-94 with a changeup, a slider and a curve. He backed off the fastball a bit from 2019 to 2020 and that led to a fantastic short season, but of course it was only eight starts. Where his changeup was absolutely dominant in 2020, it was just okay in 2021 and that was the big difference for him in having a rough year after what looked like it might be a breakout. His fastball is very hittable. He’s allowed a .325 average and .612 slugging percentage on that the last two years, so the key will be the changeup. If that’s working, he’ll be fine. If it’s not, he’ll probably be done before the fourth inning. In his three big league seasons, 2020 is currently the outlier, so this is a big year for Plesac to determine if that will continue or if he can get back to that.

Career vs. KC: 9 GS, 6-0, 2.63 ERA


Brad Keller is working to come off his first bad season in the big leagues. He no longer has whatever pressure may have been associated with being the team’s number one starter, but he’ll need to show what he did in his last handful of starts in 2021 were the real deal. He used his slider more and was able to get strikeouts for the first extended period of his career. He lived on weak contact against him for the first three seasons, but he was getting hit much harder in 2021. In 2020, his barrel percentage allowed was in the 89th percentile. It had never been lower than the 70th percentile in his career. It fell to the NINTH percentile in 2021. If he can somehow get back to limiting barrels and still strikes guys out, he might be a force, but one or the other will be sufficient for him. Like Plesac, it’s a big year. If he can bounce back, he’ll be looking at a big final arbitration year contract or maybe a nice extension. If not, he may get passed up by any of a dozen or so young pitchers.

Career vs. CLE: 9 G, 7 GS, 2-2, 1.93 ERA

April 10 - Cal Quantrill vs. Kris Bubic, 1:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Cal Quantrill 40 149.2 8 3 19.6% 7.6% 2.89 4.43 1.9
Kris Bubic 29 130.0 6 7 20.5% 10.6% 4.43 4.57 0.3

The Royals will see a six-pitch mix from Quantrill, though he mostly relies on four. He throws a hard sinker, a cutter that can be very good, a four-seamer to set up the sinker and a changeup. The Padres picked Quantrill eighth overall in 2016 and he made his debut in 2019. He struggled some and ultimately spent a lot of time in the bullpen before being moved to Cleveland during the 2020 season. He pitched exceptionally well in 2020 and was very good out of the bullpen last year before getting a shot in the rotation. He also pitched exceptionally well there. The cutter he added seems to have been a big help for him. He doesn’t get a ton of strikeouts but hitters rarely square him up. He feels like a guy who will always outperform his peripherals, but those guys can have bad days too.

Career vs. KC: 6 G, 3 GS, 3-0, 2.66 ERA


Kris Bubic has had an interesting couple seasons at the big league level. He’s had decent starts to his years, a bit of a rocky middle and then has had very good Septembers in both of his seasons. This year, Bubic has added a slider to his repertoire that should help his other pitches in ways that I think he believes will help to limit some of the home run trouble he had last year. While not overpowering, you get the feeling that there’s big-time strikeout stuff in there. Maybe it’s because he showed that in the minors, but his fastball has been very effective, especially when he throws it a bit harder. While it averaged 90.9 MPH in 2021, he found the most success when throwing it a couple miles per hour harder. Couple that with a new slider and it wouldn’t be too surprising if he’s the best starter by the end of the season.

Career vs. CLE: 2 G, 0-0, 0.00 ERA

April 11 - Aaron Civale vs. Carlos Hernandez, 1:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Aaron Civale 21 124.1 12 5 19.9% 6.2% 3.84 4.32 0.8
Carlos Hernandez 24 85.2 6 2 20.7% 11.5% 3.68 5.00 1.0

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A Cleveland pitcher has a big pitch mix and throws them all for strikes. Civale was a third-round pick in 2016 and throws a cutter at 88, a four-seamer at 91-92, a curve, a splitter, a slider and a sinker. He threw them all at least 10 percent of the time last season. Good luck guessing what’s coming and when. He isn’t overpowering, but he throws strikes and has impressive spin to get enough strikeouts to be dangerous. He likely doesn’t have the stuff to be a top-of-the-rotation starter, but he has enough to be a quality piece in the middle to the back of a rotation. He did struggle a bit with the home run ball, so he can be had, but he’s just another tough Guardians pitcher.

Career vs. KC: 3 GS, 0-1, 5.82 ERA


There were times last season when Carlos Hernandez was easily the most impressive of the young Royals starters. What he did after the break right up to the point where he clearly wore down showed that he might end up being the best of the bunch. He runs it up there in the upper-90s but also has a good curve, an effective slider and a changeup that I like quite a bit. I wonder sometimes if he should actually throw the electric fastball a bit less. He had a tough spring including a tough final outing on Tuesday that included a visit from the trainer, so we’ll see how many innings he gives, but if he can find his stride and get to what he was doing in July and August last year, the Royals will be just fine.

Career vs. CLE: 1 G, 0-0, 0.00 ERA

Prediction

The spring was too short to get many real insights. I think the Guardians will hit better than some expect, but still not especially well. They’ll definitely pitch. I think the Royals pitching will be better than it showed in the spring, especially with the early-season weather helping out. I’m going to predict a split here, but mostly because I’m just not sure I can justify saying either team will win three or four in this series.

Poll

How does the first series of the year go?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    Royals Sweep
    (7 votes)
  • 33%
    Royals Win Three
    (33 votes)
  • 40%
    Split
    (40 votes)
  • 16%
    Guardians Win Three
    (16 votes)
  • 2%
    Guardians Split
    (2 votes)
98 votes total Vote Now