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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Guardians’ hitters running on empty: No power, no clutch hitting equals trouble

CLEVELAND, Ohio — If a team doesn’t have one, it has to have the other.

The Guardians, at the moment, have neither.

Manager Terry Francona was asked earlier in the week what was missing from Cleveland’s offense this year.

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“So far it’s been power,” said Francona. “This year, as of now, the way we’re hitting with runners in scoring position is far down from last year. When you’re not hitting for power, you have to be able to do something else.

“That’s what we’re not doing now.”

No power, no clutch hitting. What’s a team to do?

Well, the Guardians have lost seven of their last nine games and 13 of their last 20. In 10 of those losses, they’ve scored three or fewer runs. Four of the losses have been shutouts.

It’s what you’d expect from the lowest scoring team in the big leagues.

Last year the Guardians were 24-25 after 49 games. They were in second place in the AL Central, 4 1/2 games off the pace. They won the division going away with 92 victories.

The offense wasn’t dynamic by any means, but it was opportunistic. They hit .285 (111 for 389) with 18 homers and 174 RBI with runners in scoring position in the first 49 games of the season.

Overall, they were hitting .245 as a team with 225 runs, 43 homers, 81 doubles, 13 triples and a .698 OPS.

This year the Guardians are 21-28 after 49 games. They’re in third place in the AL Central, trailing the Twins by 4 1/2 games. No one it seems, except the rebuilding Royals, can play themselves out of contention in the AL Central

They’re hitting .225 as a team with 169 runs. They’re averaging 3.5 runs per games compared to 4.6 runs per game at this time last year. While the difference of just over one run per game may seem trivial, 45% of the Guardians games have been decided by one run. They are 9-13 in one-run games.

Cleveland’s lack of home runs and clutch hitting this season has made winning difficult. Not only do they rank last in the big leagues in runs (169), but home runs (30), slugging percentage (.340) and OPS (.637).

To put it another way, six teams have hit more home runs in May than the Guardians have hit all season. That is a painful stat anyway you look at it.

They are faring better with runners in scoring position, hitting .242 (93 for 384) with 10 homers and 126 RBI, but it is still a drop from last year that has left Francona and the Guardians with little alternatives to generate offense.

Here is what the Guardians regulars are hitting with runners in scoring position this year:

  • Amed Rosario .333 (14 for 42) with nine RBI.
  • Joe Ramirez .324 (12 for 37) with three HRs, 18 RBI.
  • Josh Naylor .271 (13 for 48) three homers, 27 RBI.
  • Steve Kwan .256 (10 for 39) with 12 RBI.
  • Josh Bell .229 (11 for 48) with 15 RBI.
  • Myles Straw .219 (7 for 32) with 10 RBI.
  • Andres Gimenez .182 (6 for 33) with six RBI.
  • Mike Zunino .227 (5 for 22) with two homers and eight RBI.
  • Gabriel Arias .167 (2 for 12) with one homer and two RBI.
  • Will Brennan .138 (4 for 29) with nine RBI.

The front office and Francona have a lot of things to figure out. Last year they were the youngest team in the big leagues and were successful. The normal problems presented by a baseball season, not to mention a young roster, didn’t weight them down.

Some of the ills they avoided last year have found them this year.

“Whatever you’re challenged with you attempt to accomplish everything,” said Francona. “Sometimes we’re more successful than others. Right now, we’re having a tough time winning as much as we want to. There are different reasons.

“Rather than complain about being young, I think we’d rather figure out how we’re going to win being young.”

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