Emmanuel Clase keeps form, Cleveland lineup nowhere to be seen: 3 up, 3 down
The lineup was effectively on no-hitter watch all week, and Cleveland's offense made some history it would have liked to have avoided at all costs.
With the season winding down, Cleveland's sole focus can be on evaluation and progression of its young roster from top to bottom with an eye on 2022.
And, there might also be the goal of not making some negative history even worse.
Cleveland had hovered right around .500 for several weeks but has now dropped to 69-72. Here's a look at some trends on the roster.
Emmanuel Clase's stellar 2021 continues
While James Karinchak remains in Triple-A Columbus in an effort to work out some issues away from the pressures of a major-league setting, Emmanuel Clase's stellar 2021 season hasn't slowed down — which makes sense for a guy who can hurl a 101-mph cutter.
Since July 17, Clase has allowed all of one earned run in a span of 23⅔ innings. In that time, he's struck out 24 batters and walked only one, bringing his season totals to a 1.46 ERA, 2.21 FIP (Field Independent Pitching, which aims to show a pitcher's ERA without defensive variables or luck) and a 0.989 WHIP. Among qualified relievers, Clase's 2.21 FIP this season ranks fourth, behind only Milwaukee Brewers closer Josh Hader, Chicago White Sox setup man Craig Kimbrel and Houston Astros closer Ryan Pressly.
Clase was the centerpiece of the Corey Kluber deal. The Texas Rangers received exactly one inning from Kluber. Cleveland, meanwhile, has received everything the front office could have hoped for from Clase, at least this season.
Ryan Lavarnway allows Cleveland to avoid history it didn't want
With one out in the sixth inning on Sunday, Cleveland was 11 outs away from some history with regard to extremely lackluster offense. Cleveland still hadn't recorded a hit that day, and it didn't record a hit the day before, either. One day after the Brewers' Corbin Burnes and Hader combined for a no-hitter, Eric Lauer was well on his way to starting a second consecutive no-no.
The last time anything like that happened, the globe was gripped by World War I. On May 5-6, 1917, Ernie Koob and Bob Groom of the St. Louis Browns tossed no-hitters against the Chicago White Sox on back-to-back days, though Groom's came in the second game of a doubleheader, so there was technically a game between them.
The hero who saved Cleveland from becoming an offensive futility footnote was none other than Ryan Lavarnway, whose single ended the no-hit bid in that sixth inning. It was a brutally rough weekend for Cleveland's offense.
"Yeah, I think it was about 14 innings [without a hit, which is] is about 13 innings too long for us to go hitless," Lavarnway said on a Zoom call. "The Brewers have a very talented staff. Credit where credit is due. Good job for them. They made a couple good defensive plays. We hit the ball hard a few times before that hit dropped. They just ended up in gloves. I’m glad we finally got the hit. Obviously, the result of the whole game wasn’t what we wanted."
This is only a halfway into the "up" section, of course, but it was a rough week for Cleveland.
Manager Terry Francona undergoes second successful surgery, resting
Manager Terry Francona likely won't have a comfortable rehab process considering he can't put weight on one leg for several weeks and just had a hip replacement
surgery on top of that, but he is past the more significant milestones regarding his multiple procedures.
Francona underwent a procedure on Tuesday to address his left big toe, which months ago became infected. That issue forced him to move around in a walking boot all season. Tuesday's surgery came after Francona's hip replacement procedure in August.
And all of it came after Francona missed all but 14 games of the 2020 season dealing with gastrointestinal and blood-clotting issues that required multiple surgeries and time in the ICU.
Francona and the club on July 29 announced he was stepping away from the team for the remainder of the 2021 season to address those health issues and undergo the procedures now in an effort to be healthy for the 2022 season.
President of Baseball Operations Chris Antonetti said at the time that he was amazed that Francona was able to manage as deep into the season as he did considering the discomfort he was experiencing.
The team remains hopeful that Francona will be able to manage the 2022 season.
"I think the way we’re looking at it is whatever the reality is," Antonetti said on a Zoom call on Sunday. "The good news is, Tito continues to take steps in the right direction, first with his hip, now with his toe. So, for a while, things were, as I think I’ve shared with you, each day things got a little bit worse and it wasn’t heading in a good direction. That’s why we made the decision that we did when we did to be able to turn things around and help him start to make progress and get back healthy and that would put him in the best position possible to be able to manage next year.
"So, he continues to meet each of those benchmarks. We’re hopeful that will continue moving forward. Right now, he’s gone through the hip surgery, started the hip rehab, got the toe surgery, he’ll continue with the healing process and then begin that rehab. The outlook looks pretty good right now.”
The entire Cleveland lineup
There's no other way to phrase it in a week in which Cleveland was no-hit once and had two other near misses — Sunday's game with Lauer's bid into the sixth and Wednesday's game, in which Cleveland totaled one hit in a 3-0 loss to the Minnesota Twins.
The offense began to sputter just as the pitching-heavy Brewers came to town, a rough combination for forces and timing that led to a brutally slow offensive weekend in Cleveland.
Perhaps the only hitter who wouldn't qualify here is Myles Straw, who went 7-for-22 (.318) with four stolen bases in the past week. He also drew the walk in Saturday's game to avoid the perfect game. Though it didn't mean Burnes was a picnic to face that day ahead of Hader, who finished the ninth.
“Probably the first at-bat, just seeing from the get-go how good this guy is," Straw said on a Zoom call after the no-hitter. "The league knows how good [Burnes] is. You gotta come to the yard ready to compete against this guy.
"He blew me away with three cutters and it was a better cutter than I’ve seen from a lot of pitchers in this league so after that at-bat I told myself and I told some of the guys I’m like, his ball is moving a good amount for the velocity he throws it at, so he was really good tonight, obviously. You tip your cap. It’s part of the game and try to get them tomorrow.”
No seriously, the entire lineup (OK, except Myles Straw)
On Saturday night, Cleveland became the first team to be no-hit three times in the same season, something the soon-to-be Guardians had almost already done considering the lineup was also no-hit in a seven-inning doubleheader game on July 7 against the Tampa Bay Rays. A no-hitter in a seven-inning game is viewed by Major League Baseball as a "notable accomplishment" rather than a full no-no.
So that leaves Cleveland with three times being no-hit, once more in a shortened game and with several near-misses after that. The lineup has at times propped up a starting rotation ravaged by injuries, but inconsistency has led to some rough stretches as well. And now, some history.
"Obviously [Saturday] night we faced a really good pitcher and a guy that’s arguably one of the best pitchers in baseball," Antonetti said. "So, he had a great night and pitched really well last night. We have seen signs and we’ve had different points of the season where we’ve played well and scored runs, but have yet to have that consistency. I think we’re right now somewhere in the middle of the pack in runs scored as you look at all 30 teams. I think we might be the 18th in baseball.
"There have been months where we have been towards the bottom. Other months we have been towards the top. I think it was maybe June where we were sixth in baseball in runs scored. I think in August, maybe we were 11th. Again, we had periods where we’ve been productive offensively, but probably not as consistent as we’d like.”
Zach Plesac's unbelievable bad luck with opposing no-hitters
Even more historically noteworthy is that some how, some way, Zach Plesac has been Cleveland's starting pitcher in all three no-hitters.
A fun baseball-centric argument is which MLB record would be the toughest to break? Cy Young's 511 wins is certainly a contender, considering even getting halfway there would, in today's game, be a massive achievement. Johnny Vander Meer throwing back-to-back no-hitters is often mentioned. Cal Ripken's consecutive games played streak of 2,632. Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak. On and on. Plesac being the starting pitcher, three times, on the first team to ever be no-hit three times in the same season might not be at the top of the list due to its quirkiness, but it might not be too far down, either, considering it had never happened before 2021.
"Yeah, I don’t even know if that makes sense to me yet. I think it’s insane," Plesac said on a Zoom call. "I don’t know if it’s me or what’s going on, but it’s incredible, the fact that we’ve been no-hit every time — each time we’ve been no-hit, I was the starter."