Mike Zunino is great at many things: hitting homers ... maybe he can cook? I don’t know, but blocking balls is definitely not one of them.
It’s not a recent development or some kind of small-sample overreaction. His deficiencies at blocking balls are well known and we’re seeing it play out every single night — and some nights it seems like every single inning. I’m thankful for extra offense at the catcher position, but it’s just not worth it, man. Was this some kind of evil ploy by the front office to make us regret complaining about the lack of catcher offense for all these years? If so, you win. Uncle. Please put someone else back there if it gets much worse.
He wasn’t the only one to cost the Guardians a game tonight, but his issues were the most glaring. While Shane Bieber was nursing a 3-2 lead in the sixth inning, Zunino once again failed to stop a breaking ball in the dirt, this time a third-strike curveball that allowed a runner to score from third. Like so many of Zunino’s misses, it was categorized as a “wild pitch,” but it’s a pitch that any catcher on the Guardians should be expected to make. These guys throw curveballs — you have to stop them sometimes. Once. EVER.
To be fair to Zunino, even after he missed that ball, the Guardians still had three full innings to try and score. And if James Karinchak could get through a single game without a meltdown, they might have had four. Instead, Karinchak walked a batter in the bottom of the ninth, got a couple outs, then gave up a hard liner to right field that Oscar Gonzalez couldn’t get an accurate throw on. That was that, Guards lose, 4-3.
This was also not a sterling game for Amed Rosario, who went 0-for-4 and had some equally unimpressive defensive plays. Even the usually sure-handed Andrés Giménez bobbled one. Part of it is the cold they are playing in, no doubt, but it doesn’t make it any less brutal to watch.
Bieber’s day ended after six innings, and it was as close to vintage Bieber as you could ask for. He did give up three runs, but they mostly came from the aforementioned defensive miscues, which of course he can’t control. A rare miss on a difficult, yet playable, ball hit to Giménez led to an Esteury Ruiz double then eventually a sacrifice fly that gave the A’s an early lead in the third.
Among the things Bieber can control, he was as good as ever, with seven strikeouts, one walk, and no home runs. As we’ve seen with him over the last year, tonight was predominantly sliders coming out of his hand. Forty-eight of his 89 total pitchers were sliders to go with 23 four-seamers, 11 curveballs, and a handful of cutters. His fastball is still struggling to average 91 mph, but at this point, that’s just who Bieber is and we need to accept it. Especially if he can make it work like he did tonight. He still induced 11 swings and misses in addition to all the weak contact.
Josh Naylor’s uncanny ability to plate runs, but never ever get hits, against lefties continued tonight. Just like the weird play where he had the go-ahead “hit” against the Mariners on Sunday, he followed a Gonzalez triple with an RBI groundout tonight. Whatever works.
Lost amid the weirdness of everything else and the haze of watching baseball past midnight for the fifth time this week was Steven Kwan leading off the game with a hit and going 2-for-4. Gabriel Arias, who was in a spot-start for Josh Bell at first base, also clobbered his first home run of the season. This 422-foot beauty is Arias’s second-career home run, and the second-longest Guardian home run of the year behind Naylor’s over the weekend.
If you went to bed early, just watch that highlight on repeat and that’s it. Forget this game ever happened. You’ll be better off for it.