3 Up, 3 Down: Guardians vs Royals Recap
The Cleveland Guardians opened up their first series with a new nickname by splitting a series with the Kansas City Royals. The first half of the series wasn’t great besides elite starting pitching and the emergence of Steven Kwan. Then in game three, Terry Francona made some lineup adjustments, and the offense had a coming-out party.
Before I give my three ups, I want to give Steven Kwan his own individual praise. He’s started the season at a record-breaking pace of 9/13 at the plate, while also walking five times. He’s reinvigorated a nearly dead fan base and has been a spark plug at the top of the order. Kwan’s broken multiple early-season rookie hitting records and has managed to do all of this without swinging and missing a single pitch. Eventually, he will cool off some this season, but it doesn’t feel crazy to think that Kwan can hit over .300 this season with an OBP nearing .400. With that out of the way, here are my three ups, and three downs from opening weekend in Kansas City.
Everyone including myself has given Kwan his much-needed praise, but maybe it’s time we start recognizing Owen Miller. In the first two games of the series, Miller sat behind Bobby Bradley and Yu Chang, but since getting some starting opportunities, he's flourished in his mid-to-backend lineup role. Miller’s hitting over .500 while also generating an OPS north of 1.400.
This hot-start doesn’t feel like a fluke, as Miller was very consistent down the stretch of last season as well. He hit over .280 in the month of September, and he has used that added confidence to show good pop in Spring Training and Opening Weekend. Miller has seen over 60% of fastballs in his at-bats and has punished pitchers for leaving them in the zone.
According to Statcast, Miller ranks in the 92nd percentile in hard-hit percentage and 89th percentile in whiff percentage. Essentially, he’s not chasing at pitches out of the zone, and when he gets his bat on it, he’s crushing the ball. I’ll be interested to see how many ABs he gets against right-handed pitching with Bradley still on the roster, but if he can hit off pitchers from each side of the plate, he will have to become an everyday guy.
The starters weren’t perfect this weekend, but they showed positive signs. Shane Bieber finished last season with a lot of questions about his shoulder health and his spin rates. His spin rates were still down this year, but he still managed to get a lot of swinging strikes against the Royals in game one. Once Bieber is more stretched out, we can get a better measure of how he will play this year.
Zach Plesac looked awesome in his first outing of the season. Plesac struggled most of last season and he was someone who needed a big bounce-back season. Zach struggled at points last season to locate his fastball early in games, and that led to big innings where he left starts far too early. He was far more aggressive and trusted his defense to get the job done behind him. Very promising signs in his first start.
The backend of the rotation was a little shaky. Cal Quantrill got a lot of guys to chase, but he mainly threw just his fastball and cutter (77% of his pitches). Maybe he was worried about his low pitch count, but I’d like to see Quantrill get a little more aggressive when batters have two strikes. Finally, Aaron Civale had a rough first outing. He was the only starter to not go at least five innings and struggled to locate his pitches all day. His 3 walks were a bit concerning, but I think this was just a bad start, not a consistent issue.
Some players (Francisco Lindor) struggle in their first season when they sign a big contract. Jose Ramirez isn’t some player. There’s not much you can say about Jose that hasn’t been said before. Ramirez slashed .375/.444/.688. He hit from both sides of the plate and played great defense.
No matter what way you spin it, he’s one of the best players in the sport. His counting stats are great, his advanced metrics are elite, and he passes the eye test for those who use that made-up marker. Ramirez is one of the most fun players in Cleveland baseball history. The helmets are already flying off of his head and he’s smashing “home run pitches”. The dude is starting to become a Cleveland legend.
Yu Chang and Bobby Bradley
Time is running out for Bradley and Chang. At this point, both players are utility/platoon guys, but they’re not particularly great at that anyways. Neither looks to have much confidence at the plate and opponents seem to know that. Pitchers are being very aggressive with them and they’re just not hitting.
Even worse, the Guardians playing behind them are crushing it. I already spoke about Owen Miller’s coming-out party, but Ernie Clement has looked great as well. Not only are Miller and Clement hitting better, but they’re both significantly better fielders as well. There’s starting to become too much of a log jam in the infield, and these two feel like they’re going to be the odd men out.
The Guardians don’t have nearly enough bats to make Rosario ride the pine, but his defense is starting to become a real problem. Luckily for Rosario, he’s crushing the ball at the plate, but his defense has major holes at the moment. It seems like he’s hit a lot better when he’s played in his natural position of shortstop, but he’s far too big of a liability to play the most important position in the infield.
If Gabriel Arias comes up to the majors and hits, Rosario might find himself pushed over to second base or the outfield. Whatever the case may be, he needs to figure it out on defense. His bat is amazing, but his glove will start to cost this team more often than not.
The nine-hole in the Guardians lineup is a joke. Our catchers are 0/14 with one walk. Austin Hedges has taken most of these ABs, and they’ve been pathetic. I get that he’s an awesome defender, but there’s no way his defense offsets his pitiful bat. At least rookie Bryan Lavastida looks mildly threatening in his plate appearances. I want to see more ABs for Lava as there’s actually potential when he comes to the plate. Unlike Hedges, Lava isn’t striking out in three pitches, the Royals actually showed him respect at the plate. At some point we need to realize defense isn’t absolutley everything for a catcher.
This was a solid opening series for the Guards. Wager your ups and downs for free with betJACK Training Camp. Let’s keep this train rolling in Cincy!
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