TORONTO – The Cleveland Guardians are a pain in the ass.
At the plate, they’re a pesky bunch, fouling off pitches, finding holes no matter the defensive alignment, with Jose Ramirez lurking in the three-hole to deliver big blows. On the mound, they keep churning out pitchers capable of suppressing contact and generating swing and miss. Defensively, they’re pretty air tight.
“I really like this team – I think we have a good chance this year,” said Cal Quantrill, the Canadian right-hander who on Friday delivered seven shutout innings in an 8-0 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays. “We’re a complete baseball team. I think we surprise teams when we come in to play, they don’t know what they’re getting into, we have so many young kids out there playing. The fact that I’m referring to anyone else as a kid is just ridiculous, I’m not that much older (he’s 27). We’re just so young and it’s just fun. It’s an exciting bench. I’m sure you saw the emotion between Josh Naylor and I, but we’re not even the craziest of the group.”
That they’re playing in the junior varsity American League Central definitely helps, but the Blue Jays have certainly gotten all they can handle from them so far, fighting tooth and nail Saturday afternoon for a 2-1 victory.
Solo shots by Matt Chapman in the fifth inning – ending a 16-inning run drought – and Teoscar Hernandez in the seventh inning off Triston McKenzie provided the difference as the Blue Jays improved to 2-4 against the Guardians this season with their second win in seven games.
But it was touch and go all afternoon before a crowd of 44,977, with starter Mitch White having to grind through 4.2 solid innings of one-run ball, five relievers forced to navigate traffic to close things out and the offence managing precious little despite lots of solid contact.
Up until Chapman’s homer in the fifth all they managed off McKenzie was a Vladimir Guerrero Jr. ground-rule double in the first, extending his hitting streak to 22 games, and walks to Chapman in the second and Hernandez in the fourth as several lasers turned into an out.
Consider this sampling:
A Lourdes Gurriel Jr., liner to right at 102.2 m.p.h with an expected batting average of .630 in the first;
Alejandro Kirk’s liner later that inning with an expected average of .920;
Guerrero’s groundout to second hit at 105.1 m.p.h. and an expected batting average of .560;
Bo Bichette’s inning-ending double play grounder in fourth hit at 106.7 m.p.h. off the bat with an expected average of .490.
That’s going to happen over the course of a long season but for a lineup that’s not clicking at the moment, it’s doubly frustrating.
Underlining just how tough it is to score for them right now, a potential add-on run in the seventh was erased at the plate when Andres Gimenez made a terrific play to keep Santiago Espinal’s bouncer from reaching the outfield and fired off-balance to the plate to get Raimel Tapia on a play that survived a replay challenge.
The ruling nearly loomed large in the eighth when Naylor doubled with two out off Yimi Garcia to put the tying run in scoring position and interim manager John Schneider turned to closer Jordan Romano, who walked Gimenez before striking out Oscar Gonzalez.
Romano then locked down the ninth for his 26th save.
This series is the second between the clubs and they won’t meet again unless it’s in the post-season. The Guardians took three of four during a May series in Cleveland and the way they found holes during that set prompted the Blue Jays to “definitely back down the aggressiveness in terms of shifting (for the current series)” and “we did kind of as a whole collectively after that series anyway,” said Schneider.
“We’ve kind of been a little bit more neutral, if you will, especially with some right-handed hitters,” he continued. “But that’s how they play and it’s a credit to them. So hopefully when they do put it in play on the ground, we’re in the right spot. But they’re very diligent about putting the ball in play. And if you look at them as a whole, they’re busting their ass down the line, they’re putting the ball in play. It’s obviously something they think is important. So we’ve got to be able to respond.”