The Cleveland Guardians couldn’t complete the four-game sweep, dropping the series finale against the Kansas City Royals, 4-1, as they head into the All-Star break.
No Cleveland starting pitcher seems more ready for a break than Bieber.
The Guardians “ace” is in a bit of a rough patch. In his four previous starts prior to Sunday’s first half finale, Bieber allowed 13 earned runs over 23 innings for an ERA of 5.09. Pitching a third time through the lineup has been a significant hurdle for him this season, as opposing hitters are slashing .310/.344/.578 when they get a third crack at Bieber. He has also been more susceptible to the long ball than in previous seasons, averaging 1.06 home runs per nine innings.
It was more of the same on Sunday. Bieber didn’t allow a walk but surrendered nine hits and four earned runs to a Kansas City lineup that he blanked not that long ago. The 1-0 lead Cleveland handed him in the fourth inning lasted all of two pitches into the fifth, as Bieber served up a solo shot to Jason Isbel on a four-seam fastball. He unraveled the very next inning when — you guessed it — he had to face the Royals a third time through the order.
With one out, Bieber got ahead of Salvador Pérez with an 0-2 count but then hit Pérez with a knuckle curve that spun too far inside. After an M.J. Melendez groundout, Freddy Fermin took a curveball low in the zone and lined an RBI double down the third base line to plate the go-ahead run. A two-out single by Isbel put runners at first and third for Michael Massey, who made a good swing on an 0-2 slider out of the zone. His two-run triple made it a 4-1 lead for the Royals.
As much as Bieber struggled, his lineup didn’t offer much support.
Kansas City starting pitcher Ryan Yarbrough was making his first start since being struck in the face by a line drive on May 7. The soft-tossing left-hander averaged 86.5 mph on his sinker and 84 mph on his cutter, and the lack of velocity seemed to confound the Guardians. Yarbrough pitched six innings, allowing six hits, one walk, and one earned run while striking out five.
Cleveland scraped across their only run of the game in the fourth inning on an Andrés Giménez RBI single. But Giménez fell down as he took a hard turn around first base, allowing Yarbrough to cut off the throw home and toss it to first to catch Giménez off the bag.
It was that kind of day for the offense. Their next best scoring opportunity came in the sixth inning. Following a leadoff single by Amed Rosario, Josh Naylor lined a one-out single into left field. With Nicky Lopez making his first start in the outfield, Rosario sought to test his arm by going from first to third. Lopez was up to the challenge and his throw to third base arrived in time for Rosario to make the second out of the inning. Giménez then hit a two-out double to left, but both he and Naylor were left stranded after Tyler Freeman lined out to Lopez for the third out.
Freeman tried to spark a rally in the ninth inning with a two-out single. Brennan then reached on a dropped third strike that ricocheted down the third base line, but a sliding catch in center field by Isbel on a Myles Straw line drive brought the game to a close.
With the Twins getting clobbered by the Orioles, the Guardians will remain in first place in the AL Central by half a game even as their record drops back to .500.