Guardians' dominant bullpen's scoreless streak snapped

CLEVELAND — Guardians manager Stephen Vogt said it best: “When [our relievers] give up runs, we’re all gonna wonder what happened because that’s the bar they’ve set for themselves.”

For the first time in 26 innings, the Guardians’ bullpen gave up a run. And this time, it was costly. With the game tied in the top of the eighth at Progressive Field, Hunter Gaddis gave up an RBI single to Kyle Isbel that led to the Guardians dropping the series finale to the Royals, 4-3, on Thursday.

At some point, the streak was going to have to end. But the dominance that the group had collectively shouldn’t be overshadowed by the loss. The team entered the day leading the Majors in the following categories: WAR (4.0), ERA (2.38), FIP (2.67) and home runs allowed (11).

“[They] save us. Save the starters,” Guardians starter Tanner Bibee said. “I mean, I think I just saw it was 26 straight innings of not giving up a run. I mean, that’s kind of unbelievable. That’s a lot of innings. That’s a long stretch of innings. It’s been unbelievable. They’ve been able to keep us afloat and they’re gonna keep doing it.”

Everyone in Cleveland’s ‘pen pitched at least one inning in this span, but the three biggest contributors all worked the late innings of games. Emmanuel Clase has allowed just one earned run across 30 1/3 innings this season (0.30 ERA). Gaddis had a 13 1/3 scoreless streak prior to Thursday’s hiccup. But Cade Smith’s 1 2/3 scoreless innings against Kansas City increased his own streak to 12 straight frames without allowing a run.

Everyone would’ve probably predicted that Clase would be lights-out again this year, even after he simultaneously led the league in saves and blown saves in ‘23. Gaddis, a starter-turned-reliever, emerged as a pleasant surprise for this group, earning his way into a high-leverage role. And for Smith…well, he couldn’t have asked for a better start to his Major League career.

He was the last man to make the Guardians’ Opening Day roster. Smith pitched well enough in Cactus League play to earn the job, but Cleveland still wanted to look externally to see if someone with more experience should round out the bullpen instead. Luckily for the organization, they didn’t find anyone. His season ERA has now dropped to 1.57 after escaping jams with two double plays on Thursday.

“He just keeps getting better,” Vogt said. “We’re joking with him that he’s a ground ball pitcher now. Three or four double plays his last couple outings. He just attacks the zone. His split’s getting better. His slider’s getting better. But he’s still got a really good fastball.”

With how dominant this group has been, it made the one blemish even harder to accept. Gaddis got two quick outs to start the eighth inning, but a double by Adam Frazier set up Isbel to score on the hard-hit single to right.

“Got to credit them,” Vogt said. “They got good at-bats off of our guys and they found a way to scrap across runs and we didn’t and that was the difference in the game.”

The Guardians knew what was at stake for this divisional matchup. They would’ve liked to capitalize even more on the limited opportunity they had to gain ground over the second-place Royals since Wednesday’s contest was postponed due to rain. Now, they sit four games ahead of Kansas City. And they know that there are plenty of matchups ahead.

“We’re gonna lose sometimes. We’re not always gonna get the big hit,” Vogt said. “We had pressure on [Royals starter Brady] Singer every single inning and just didn’t quite get that big hit that we’ve typically gotten and that’s OK. We’re going to have games like this.”

The one measly run allowed by the bullpen doesn’t mean much in the big picture. The Guardians know that this group has been the reason for most of their success this year and they know that they can trust them to continue that moving forward.

“They’ve done everything we’ve asked of them and more,” Vogt said. “They continue to just be incredible.”

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