Cleveland’s 2021 bullpen was supposed to be good. One random idiot even called it the team’s secret weapon coming into the season. That idiot, as dashingly handsome as he is short-sightedly stupid, was almost proven right for a bit. Then a sticky substance ban hit, Nick Sandlin got hurt, and everything came unraveled.
Not everyone in the bullpen is James Karinchak and totally unable to pitch without sticky fingers (Blake Parker and Bryan Shaw are still better than you probably think), but once better part of the Guardians’ 1-2 punch turned out to be a sham, it really threw a wrench in things.
We saw the weight of those bullpen issues in tonight’s 8-5 loss to the Red Sox, but before that, let’s talk about Cal Quantrill.
He didn’t finish with the most impressive box score in the world, with six strikeouts over six innings and five earned runs allowed, but Quantrill was able to generate a fair number of swings and misses (10) and called strikeouts (17) to indicate that he was hitting his spots pretty well — for the most part. When he did miss, it was off-speed and breaking pitches over the heart of the plate and the Red Sox were quick to take advantage of it. Turns out facing good offenses is actually really hard.
His first run allowed was a Kyle Schwarber solo shot in the first, followed by Kevin Plawecki (yes, that Kevin Plawecki) in the second. Then, in the fourth, he gave up another to Jonathan Araúz. All solo shots, all with limited or no action on the bases afterward. For the most part, Quantrill looked fine, and I don’t think he completely deserves all five of the runs that he was tagged with.
With either Karinchak or Emmanuel Clase cemented at the back of the bullpen and the other on firefighting duty, tonight would have been a good night to use one of them in the bottom of the seventh inning. At that point, Quantrill had the Guardians in a 3-3 tie but runners on second and third with no outs thanks to a walk and a double to start the inning.
Of course, Quantrill deserves some of the blame here — after all, he did put the runners on — but this would have been the perfect time for a ringer to come in and make everything alright. Instead, DeMarlo Hale had to turn to Trevor Stephan. And he ... didn’t get out of it and in fact sort of did the exact opposite.
Kyle Schwarber was the first to do damage with a double that scored both runners and closed the door on Quantrill. After a pair of strikeouts and an intentional walk of Alex Verdugo, Hunter Renfroe homered to make it 8-3 and effectively put the game out of reach.
I guess in the grand scheme of things it’s not like this game matters a whole lot, so at the very least it’ll serve as a learning experience for Stephan, who skipped Triple-A altogether and is 50 innings into his rookie season.
It’s also worth noting that Sam Hentges was just fine out of the bullpen, pitching a clean eighth inning. Even Justin Garza was able to get out of his own bases-loaded jam after back-to-back walks to escape the seventh. Tonight was ultimately an implosion of one reliever, but it’s a problem that extends beyond just Stephan. Tonight it was him who had a bad game at the worst possible time, tomorrow it will be someone else. Relievers are walking timebombs anyway, but injuries and bad luck have forced the Guardians to rely on some more volatile explosives than they’d probably like.
The offense did make it interesting at the end at least, with a Bobby Bradley RBI single in the top of the eighth and the makings of a rally in the ninth with runners on the corners, one out, and the chance to tie the game with one swing. Franmil Reyes and Bradley Zimmer struck out to end the game, though, something they did a combined five times in 10 at-bats tonight. That’s not gonna help win games, either.
In his bi-weekly “hey everyone you should remember I exist already” game, José Ramírez casually went 3-for-4 with a home run in the losing effort.
You know, bro.— Bally Sports Cleveland (@BallySportsCLE) September 4, 2021
Thanks to this José Ramírez home run pitch, the @Indians have now gone yard in 17 straight games!#OurCLE pic.twitter.com/B0NmEkRSpU
Try again tomorrow.