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Cleveland’s worst-case scenario has already happened

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When you build your offense around a lot of wild cards, there’s a good chance they’ll all struggle at once

Cleveland Indians v Chicago White Sox Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images

If Carlos Rodón had not let a slider get away from him and hit Roberto Pérez in the toe last night, today would be a discussion about the 24th perfect game in MLB history, and not the 307th no-hitter.

Fundamentally, it’s the same discussion. One team, in this case Cleveland, failed to have a man reach base until the penultimate batter. Whether Pérez reaches base or not doesn't really change how bad of a night this was for Cleveland baseball. Rodón was perfect against them except for one pitch, and for anyone who has followed the construction of this offense over the last year, this seemed inevitable eventually.

Rodón’s no-hitter was the first time Cleveland has been blanked since Ervin Santana in 2011. Prior to that, they hadn’t been no-hit since 1993, though they have come close in recent years. On Sept. 5, 2019, the White Sox nearly did it to Cleveland, allowing one hit in their 7-1 victory. Almost a year earlier, on Sept. 12, 2018, the Rays held them to one hit. Even when a certain shortstop’s smile was lighting up Cleveland-area televisions, this was always a lineup that looked like it was on the brink of being no-hit any moment, and yesterday it finally happened.

So, how does such a thing happen? How does a team with playoff aspirations go a full 8.1 innings without a single runner getting on base? Against a guy who hasn’t had an ERA under 4.00 since 2015, no less?

As with most no-hitters and perfect games, it was the culmination of several things. A perfect storm of awfulness that loomed over the visiting dugout of Guaranteed Rate Field. Bad luck, bad weather, generally a pretty bad lineup — a lot has to go wrong for any no-hitter and last night was no exception.

For starters, the one man who should have been able to save them couldn’t. José Ramírez is mired in a lengthy slump after coming out of the gate hot; he hasn’t hit since April 9, and he hasn’t even reached base since April 11. Getting a clutch hit late to ruin a perfect game would have been a great slump-buster, but it didn’t happen. If you’re going to no-hit the 2021 Cleveland baseball team, neutralizing José Ramírez is the first step. Rodón did it with a heavy dose of high fastballs and burying a couple sliders.

When Cleveland’s front office went out and signed Eddie Rosario, they knew they were getting a streaky hitter. Any given night he’s equal chance likely to hit two home runs as he is to miss everything. Cleveland’s lineup is littered with this kind of inconsistency, down to arguably their second-best hitter, Franmil Reyes, who has responded to his two-homer showcase last week by going hitless in his last three games. Neither of them could catch up to Rodón’s high heaters, either, and Rosario took one of the ugliest swings I’ve seen in a long time trying to catch a slider out of the zone.

Perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, Terry Francona also brought in the “reinforcements” of Jake Bauers and Ben Gamel towards the end of the game. Both are guys who are strictly platooned to not face lefties, and Bauers predictably struck out in his only at-bat. Gamel never ended up making it to the plate, but it’s hard to imagine he would have done anything differently.

One of their best chances at a hit came on the first pitch of the game, when Luplow skied the first pitch he saw to the left-fielder. Luplow, a well-known lefty killer, also produced the last out of the game with a 99.4 mph groundout. If even Luplow can’t find a way to hit a lefty after seeing him multiple times in the same games, maybe it’s just not your night.

Their next best chance came in the ninth. Josh Naylor had a chance to beat out a grounder, but Jose Abreu risked life and limb to make sure his foot touched first in time (and he might have been helped by Naylor making the decisions to slide instead of run full-speed through the bag). Outside of that, and a couple hard-hit balls from Roberto Pérez, the offense looked like lifeless. Once Zach Plesac gave up his six runs and left to fight a trashcan, the air was completely taken out of the team, whether they’ll ever admit it or not.

Even Rodón wasn’t what you would call “nasty” or even dominant for most of the game. You could make the argument that Shane Bieber’s outing Tuesday night was superior to what Rodón did, even though he allowed four more baserunners. History books won’t see it like that, though. Bieber’s outing was another great one in a series of great ones, but it wasn’t the great one. And Rodón deserves the recognition for it — a no-hitter is special, no matter what.

Cleveland has glaring offensive holes that they refused to fix in the offseason, and now they are in all the wrong headlines because of it. No matter how much you believe in Josh Naylor finding his way, or José Ramírez being able to carry the offense by himself, or Franmil Reyes’s massive homers, seeing this offense be no-hit eventually should not have come as much of a surprise.

In the end, though, last night didn’t doom Cleveland’s season, and that’s the optimistic angle worth taking. This is obviously a low point, but it’s a low point 11 games into a 162-game season. The dead cat hit the floor, now it has to bounce.