The Guardians return home to Cleveland this weekend after a rough road trip that saw them drop three of six games against the lowly Nationals and Tigers — teams they should be beating if they have playoff aspirations. Fortunately, it’s April and the bad taste that road trip left in their mouths can be erased with a big series against the Miami Marlins.
Likely the biggest opponent this weekend will be the weather, as it’s expected to rain in Cleveland right through first pitch tonight. Saturday is slated to be a battle of aces between Shane Bieber and Sandy Alcantara, but rain could play a factor there, too. There’s at least a chance it will subside by the time the 6:10 p.m. ET first pitch rolls around, though.
If the weather holds off, this series has the potential to be a fun one. Game 1 is a battle between a left-handed sinker/slider pitch in Braxton Garrett and Zach Plesac, who had a decent start his last time out for the Guards.
Garrett throws either his sinker (34%) or slider (33.5%) the vast majority of the time, but he also mixes in a four-seamer (15.1%), and a curveball (15.1%) that is shaped almost identical to his slider, with a bit more vertical drop. Last year, he started 17 games and finished with a 3.58 ERA and 1.5 fWAR. Even with that, the 25-year-old former Tommy John recipient had to battle his way to a rotation spot out of spring training.
Garrett has not gone deep into games so far this year, but he has allowed two or fewer runs in each of his three starts. Against the Mets on April 9, he struck out a season-high seven batters and walked one in 4.2 innings.
The Bieber-Alcantara battle Saturday night will be must-watch TV for fans of good pitching if it happens. You can throw out Alcantara’s 5.84 ERA so far this season — he has had two bad outings, topped by allowing nine earned runs in four innings against the Phillies on April 10. But if you think that means he’s going to pitch like a guy who routinely holds an ERA over 5.00, you’re going to be disappointed.
With all that said, however, he hasn’t had the same outstanding results of the past, including his Cy Young Award-winning season last year. He is still throwing his four-seamer as hard as ever (98-mph average), and his slider and changeup are still as deadly as ever — I suspect a lot of it comes down to bad early-season luck. His barrel rate is the same as it was last year (5.3%), but his BABIP against is .026 higher than it was last year. If it maintains at .288, it would be his career high. Another factor is his groundball rate dropping from 53.4% last year to 40.5% through his four starts this season. Not necessarily a luck thing, but something that can turn around in only a game or two.
Hopefully, for the Guardians’ sake, whatever has ailed Alcantara in his last two outings — in which he allowed a combined 13 runs in 10 innings — continues on Saturday.
The series finale features two 25-year-old pitchers with very different MLB stories thus far. Cleveland will send Peyton Battenfield out for his third-career start, while Marlins lefty Jesús Luzardo is basically a grizzled vet at this point. Drafted by the Nationals in 2016, he debuted with the Oakland Athletics in 2019, was traded to Miami midway through 2021, and he already has 289.2 innings under his belt over 49 career starts (plus a handful of bullpen appearances).
Luzardo’s promising 2022 season was shortened by a forearm strain in May that kept him out of action until August. Still, he finished with a 3.32 ERA and 27.4% strikeout rate. He’s off to an even hotter start this season, allowing seven earned runs in 23 innings with 26 strikeouts and eight walks.
Luzardo can easily pump 97 mph with his four-seamer, and will also toss in a slider, changeup, and sinker for good measure. His repertoire is especially frustrating for batters because nothing of his drops much, it’s all side-to-side movement. Nothing, that is, except for a deadly “gyro slider” that features almost no ride, but drops just enough to look like his other three (very similar) pitches then vanish at the last second.
That slider has generated whiffs 47.9% of the time so far in 2023, and Luzardo uses it as his putaway pitch 22.7% of the time.
The Marlins roster is still very much a work in progress, but they have some interesting pieces on offense. Luis Arráez is mercifully out of the AL Central thanks to a deal with the Twins in January, and he has been a godsend for Miami so far. He already hit for the franchise-first cycle and is slashing .438/.493/.578 to start the season. Former World Series MVP Jorge Soler was brought over on a three-year deal last offseason and has five home runs through 17 games. Jazz Chisolm is off to a bit of a slow start, but remains one of baseball’s fastest, most exciting players.
Now we just wait and hope the rain holds off to see it all in action.
Team at a glance
- Record: 10-9
- Runs scored: 59
- Run differential: -26
- Last 10: 7-3
- Slash: .249/.305/.383
- wOBA: .304
- wRC+: 88
- ERA: 4.21
- SIERA: 4.15
- K-BB%: 13.8%
Friday, April 21, 7:10 p.m. ET: LHP Braxton Garrett vs. RHP Zach Plesac
Saturday, April 22, 6:10 p.m. ET: RHP Sandy Alcantara vs. RHP Shane Bieber
Sunday, April 23, 1:40 p.m. ET: LHP Jesús Luzardo vs. RHP Peyton Battenfield
How many games will the Guardians win against the Marlins?
This poll is closed