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Cleveland Guardians Series Preview: They can really score...except when they don’t

An inconsistent offense and an inconsistent pitching staff are a good formula for a team stuck in the middle.

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Cleveland Guardians David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a weird year for the Guardians. They came into the season thinking they’d pitch well enough to cover for their lackluster offense. But the lackluster offense has been anything but…sometimes. They’ve scored 10 or more runs five times this year. Compare that to some of the best offenses in baseball. The Dodgers have done it six times. The Giants have done it five times. The Mets have done it five times. These are the top three scoring offenses in all of baseball. The Guardians, though, have also scored two or fewer 17 times. So there’s some variance there. And the pitching has been just sort of okay. They’ve done well in the rotation, but not at as well as expected. Their bullpen has been very good at the back end, but I think they were expecting more from their pitching and less from their offense. We saw both ends of that spectrum in Kansas City to start the season in April, so we know it all too well, but I just find their team fascinating in their inconsistency.

Royals vs. Guardians Matchup Stats

Category Royals Guardians
Category Royals Guardians
Winning % .348 .442
H2H Wins 2 2
Team wRC+ 93 102
Team xFIP 4.58 4.03
Run Differential -64 10
Highest fWAR Andrew Benintendi & Bobby Witt Jr., 1.3 Jose Ramirez, 2.9

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 188 .236 .335 .304 13.3% 15.4% 94 1.1
Amed Rosario LF 161 .232 .280 .285 6.2% 14.3% 66 0.0
Jose Ramirez 3B 188 .292 .388 .634 13.3% 8.0% 193 2.9
Owen Miller 2B 148 .280 .331 .462 8.1% 22.3% 128 1.1
Josh Naylor 1B 107 .296 .346 .531 5.6% 15.0% 154 0.9
Oscar Gonzalez DH 12 .417 .417 .583 0.0% 16.7% 194 0.2
Andres Gimenez SS 124 .286 .306 .471 2.4% 24.2% 123 1.2
Steven Kwan RF 142 .242 .345 .333 12.7% 8.5% 105 0.3
Austin Hedges C 107 .156 .221 .260 6.5% 25.2% 41 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
Luke Maile C 31 .333 .387 .519 9.7% 22.6% 160 0.4
Ernie Clement INF/OF 73 .212 .278 .258 5.5% 16.4% 61 -0.1
Richie Palacios INF/OF 45 .302 .333 .349 4.4% 13.3% 101 0.1
Oscar Mercado OF 97 .204 .227 .398 2.1% 24.7% 76 -0.4

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 19 17.1 1 2 25.4% 5.6% 2.60 2.41 0.4
Trevor Stephan 18 18.0 2 2 25.4% 7.0% 3.00 3.14 0.6
Bryan Shaw 18 13.2 1 0 17.2% 8.6% 5.27 4.43 -0.3

Royals vs. Guardians Projected Pitchers

May 30 - Jonathan Heasley vs. Zach Plesac, 5:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Jonathan Heasley 3 13.1 0 2 11.1% 20.6% 4.73 6.81 -0.3
Zach Plesac 8 43.1 1 4 19.8% 5.9% 5.40 4.76 0.0

I’ve been impressed with Jonathan Heasley’s secondary pitches in his first few starts back in the big leagues. He has whiff rates of at least 26.3 percent on his changeup, curve and slider and he’s allowed just one extra base hit total on those pitches. The fastball has been a bit of an issue. He’s allowed just a .222 average, but two home runs and a double are among the four hits he’s allowed on it. The issue, though, hasn’t been extra base hits. It’s walks. He’s walked 13 batters in 13.1 innings and struck out only seven. That just doesn’t work. He’s thrown 47.6 percent of his fastballs outside the zone. That’s just a bit worse than the league average, but he needs to find a way to get ahead of hitters to let that offspeed stuff work for him. His 54 percent first pitch strike rate needs to jump at least 10 percent and then he can find some success.

Career vs. CLE: First Appearance

As more time passes from Zach Plesac’s 2020 season, it’s beginning to look like that year was the outlier. He struck out a ton of hitters and showed great control. His control is still good, but he just doesn’t get enough strikeouts to be successful, especially without being a ground ball type pitcher. His fastball sits 90-92 and has been hit decently. His changeup has been okay, but not great. Neither gets a swing and miss. His slider and curve have been decent whiff pitches for him, but he leaves them in the middle too often and both have been hit pretty hard and opponents have done damage on them. Where there’s likely some positive regression to come is with runners on and in scoring position. He’s allowed a .333/.388/.562 line with runners on and .452/.514/.871 with runners in scoring position. You’d think that will turn eventually because that kind of gap between his numbers with the bases empty (.682 OPS) and with men on is a bit odd.

Career vs. KC: 10 GS, 57.0 IP, 6-0, 2.37 ERA

May 31 - Daniel Lynch vs. Cal Quantrill, 5:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Daniel Lynch 8 39.0 2 3 21.3% 9.8% 3.92 4.64 0.4
Cal Quantrill 8 47.1 1 3 14.6% 9.9% 3.42 4.94 0.5

Daniel Lynch will never forget facing Cleveland because they were his first big league opponents last year. He’s a different pitcher now than he was then. He’s done quite a bit of work to improve the extension on his fastball, which makes it appear to be a bit harder. It’s still gotten hit reasonably well, but I think if he were able to work it up in the zone more like we saw from some of those Twins pitchers, it could take that final step. That’s something he’s working on, but hasn’t quite perfected. But he’s coming off a start where his slider was outstanding with 11 whiffs on it, so that’s something to build on. The Guardians have whiffed on 26.9 percent of swings against lefty sliders and actually hit pretty well against them in general, so the fastball might be important for him. They’ve hit just .158 with no extra base hits on fastballs at the top of the zone or just above, so that should be a big focus for him.

Career vs. CLE: 3 GS, 13.2 IP, 0-1, 7.24 ERA

When the Guardians picked up Cal Quantrill from the Padres, he was mostly a reliever, but they started to convert him to the rotation in the middle of 2021 and the conversion went about as well as possible. He’s not a big strikeout guy, but he also doesn’t walk a ton and he had a 3.12 ERA in 22 starts. The overall numbers look pretty solid this year with the 3.42 ERA, but he’s struck out just 28 and walked 19 in 47.1 innings. The 19 walks aren’t terrible, but they’re certainly up from his last couple seasons. He relies on a sinker and a cutter mostly as the only two pitches he throws more than 10 percent of the time. In spite of using a sinker so much, his ground ball rate is actually below 38 percent, so his game is a little confusing, but it works for him. If he can get his control in order, he can get back to looking like a potential number two starter, but if he can’t, then he feels much more like a three or four, which is still valuable, just different.

Career vs. KC: 7 G, 4 GS, 28.2 IP, 4-0, 2.83 ERA

June 1 - Brad Keller vs. Konnor Pilkington, 12:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Brad Keller 9 54.2 1 5 14.2% 6.7% 3.95 4.28 0.4
Konnor Pilkington 5 12.0 0 0 14.6% 6.8% 3.75 4.39 0.2

Brad Keller had a very rough go of it in his last start in Minnesota, but he hasn’t been especially good in awhile. He now has a 6.85 ERA in his last four starts with 33 hits allowed and just 13 strikeouts in those 23.2 innings. He’s still generally giving innings with two of those starts in there lasting seven innings even though he wasn’t pitching great, but he’s got some things to figure out if he wants to get back to anything resembling his early-season work. I feel like his slider just wasn’t working in that last start, which is disappointing because that’s been his number one pitch and what he’s gone to when needing an out all season. It’s the only pitch he’s really gotten whiffs on, but I still think I’d like to see him go to the four-seamer up in the zone more often. He can pump at 95-97, so why not give that more of a shot?

Career vs. CLE: 10 G, 8 GS, 52.2 IP, 2-2, 1.71 ERA

Konnor Pilkington was part of the 2018 draft class that Royals fans are so familiar with, and was sent to Cleveland in exchange for Cesar Hernandez at the deadline last year. Pilkington had a bit of a rough go of it at AAA this year after pitching very well in AA last year, but he’s up now. He’s a big guy, but the fastball that he had in college just isn’t there anymore as he averages about 90-93 with it. His changeup has been tough for big league opponents to make contact with and they’re not doing much with it when they do make contact. He also has a slider that’s been great. The fastball hasn’t been hit hard yet, but if he misses in the middle with it, he doesn’t have enough movement or velocity to get away with that.

Career vs. KC: First Appearance

Royals vs. Guardians Prediction

The Royals offense is playing better, but I just feel like no matter how they’re pitching, the Royals can’t seem to get it going against either Plesac or Quantrill. I’m going to say they win one of three and I’ll give you one more prediction. One of the losses will be of the heartbreaking variety.


How many wins do the Royals get in Cleveland this week?

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  • 3%
    (3 votes)
  • 32%
    (26 votes)
  • 48%
    (39 votes)
  • 16%
    (13 votes)
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