Outcomes are what matter and the Guardians executed with efficiency in a 6-1 handling of the Houston Astros. Triston McKenzie carried a two-hit shutout into the seventh inning before Alex Bregman homered in the Astros’ only run. His dominant performance stands out but every Guardians player (and the Astros defense) found a way to contribute.
José Ramírez and unlikely but consistent co-star Luke Maile dealt the damage for Cleveland at the plate this evening. Ramírez homered and doubled to drive in four, while Maile singled three times, drew a walk, and scored thrice. THRICE. The returns are unbelievably early on Maile, but they are nice.
Every hitter shouldered some of the load tonight, either notching a hit or drawing a walk. The only exception was Andrés Giménez, though he struck out only once in four trips to the plate.
I must point out that three of the Guardians’ RBIs came on ground balls, two of which featured errors. This is a perfectly valid way to score runs. Is it a way to consistently score runs? I’m beginning to think so. Luis Garcia short armed a throw very badly in the third inning. Maybe I am just more sensitive to errors this season, but what might have been early yips now makes me wonder if errors are up league-wide.
I have not run the numbers, so this is a mere hunch. But, a ball that is in play more often would suggest, at the very least, more opportunities for errors to occur. And a team that is quick on the bases and good at running them stands to benefit. They certainly did again tonight.
Meanwhile: Nick Sandlin and Sam Hentges combined for a scoreless eighth inning.
Tito Francona decided to deploy Emmanuel Clase in the ninth. Unorthodox? Maybe. Usually, a manager reserves use of his closer to high-leverage situations, if not only to close situations. The Guardians were up five, but Clase needed only ten pitches to retire the side and end the game.
This, finally, brings us to Triston McKenzie.
By tossing first-pitch strikes to half of the twenty-four hitters he faced, McKenzie worked ahead of hitters all night. This allowed him to lean on his bread and butter: The fastball and the curveball. He earned nine total called strikes with the fastball while using it 54 times. It set up his curveball with great success. He earned seven swings and misses on the curve alone, and six more foul balls in twenty-seven pitches. When necessary, the slider aided; he threw it fourteen times and earned three whiffs.
All the more encouraging, then, is how efficiently McKenzie worked. He needed only ninety-five pitches to finish seven innings. Statcast suggests that he lucked out a bit based on the quality of contact that the Astros hitters made, but it is only Statcast. Outcomes decide baseball games, and it will be interesting to see if McKenzie pays for hard contact in the future.
Final thoughts: the SLG in this lineup is a little bit unbalanced, and it is interesting to see the consequences play out night after night. It is also a very different game if the catcher doesn’t reach base all four times and score ( t h r i c e ) from the nine hole.