Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Guardians erase five-run deficit, win first game of crucial series vs. Royals thanks to Witt’s three-run error

It is only June, but the Cleveland Guardians and Kansas City Royals opened an important three-game series at Progressive Field on Tuesday night. The Guardians entered play with a 39-20 record and a four-game lead over the 36-25 Royals in the AL Central. This week is a chance for Cleveland to create more separation in the standings, and a chance for Kansas City to close the gap.

Thanks to some timely home runs and a back-breaking error by Bobby Witt Jr., the Guardians erased an early 5-0 deficit, and stretched their division lead to five games (CLE 8, KC 5). Seth Lugo, who entered the game with a league-leading 1.72 ERA, was tagged for a season-high five runs in six innings plus two batters. That upped his ERA to a still excellent 2.13.

Witt hit two two-run homers early in the game and went 3 for 5 on the night, but, with two outs and the bases loaded in the seventh inning, Witt attempted to step on second for the force out rather than throw to first on David Fry‘s grounder. A hustling Josh Naylor beat Witt to the bag and Witt’s rushed throw to first wound up in the camera well. Three runs scored on the play.

With all due respect, Fry is not the speediest runner. If Witt fields the ball and throws straight to first, Fry’s out, the inning is over, and the score remains tied 5-5 going to the eighth. Instead, the Guardians took the lead and eventually won the game. Credit to Naylor for hustling to second and forcing Witt into an awkward, costly throw. The man plays with the dial turned to 11 at all times.

The error is an unfortunate blemish in an otherwise spectacular season for Witt. Tuesday’s effort raised his line to .319/.371/.565, plus he’s hit 11 home runs and stolen 17 bases. Add in his usually terrific defense and Witt entered play Tuesday third in baseball with 3.6 WAR, behind only Gunnar Henderson (4.1 WAR) and Aaron Judge (3.9 WAR).

As for Cleveland, their 40-20 record is their best through 60 games since the 1999 team also started 40-20. The 1954 and 1995 clubs are the only other teams in franchise history to win at least 40 of their first 60 games. Both those teams started 42-18. The Cleveland franchise has been around since 1901 and this is their fourth-best start ever.

This three-game series continues Wednesday night. Right-hander Brady Singer (4-2, 2.63 ERA) will start for the Royals. The Guardians will use righty Nick Sandlin as an opener. Lefty Logan Allen (6-3, 5.83 ERA) is likely to be the bulk guy out of the bullpen.

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