Guardians sweep Rockies before schedule tightens

DENVER: Now comes the test.

The Guardians wrapped up a three-game win over the Rockies at Coors Field on Thursday afternoon with a 4-2 win, winning for the 13th time in their last 16 games. Cleveland are one of the hottest teams in the majors, but as the afterglow of another win melts into the reality of what’s next, it’s time to see what this team can really do in 2022.

As they boarded their plane Thursday night to leave Denver, the Guardians turned their attention to Los Angeles, where they begin a challenging series of games against some of baseball’s best teams: Cleveland will play three against the Dodgers and three against the American League Central-leading Twins complete their road trip before hosting the Red Sox for three, the Twins for five (including a doubleheader on June 28), and baseball’s best team, the Yankees, for three.

For a team that always pushes beyond its limits, led by perhaps its most underrated player – AL MVP Award contender José Ramírez – we’ll soon see just how far a starting rotation goes for a young group that relies on contact and speed Forms up and a bullpen ranked in the top five in MLB will face two AL division leaders and the rising Red Sox within 17 days.

“I don’t look that far back and I don’t look that far ahead,” said manager Terry Francona. “We’ll have our hands full tomorrow night [at Dodger Stadium]and we look forward to this challenge and see how we do.”

Francona added that while this is his way of seeing the future and his boys are good at keeping things in perspective, this is a young team that is hungry.

The Hunger was on display Thursday despite late-inning drama. In the seventh, with the Guardians leading 4-1, Bryan Shaw came out of the bullpen to relieve starter Triston McKenzie, who held Colorado on a seven-hit run and a walk while hitting a six in his first career start at Coors Field . Shaw, who had 10 consecutive scoreless outings, handed back-to-back singles to Brian Serven and Connor Joe to open the frame, then went to Charlie Blackmon to load the bases.

But Eli Morgan, who has emerged as one of the best late-inning relievers in the game and hasn’t given up a run since May 8, got Brendan Rodgers to jump to flat left field before CJ Cron followed with a sacrifice fly hit the right and Ryan McMahon gently threw one back up the mound to end the threat.

Emmanuel Clase clung to a two-run lead in heat 9 and immediately found himself in trouble trying to pin his third save in as many days. Serven and Joe were once again the instigators, rattling off consecutive singles to start the frame. But Clase tricked Blackmon into flying deep in the middle, then prompted a game-ending double play from Rodgers’ racquet. It was the third straight game Cleveland won by doubles.

“The key is executing those uncomfortable pitches,” Clase said through an interpreter, “but also have confidence that you can execute those pitches.”

Confidence runs high among the Guardians as they leave the Mile High City for Hollywood. Even though they know they have a big task ahead of them in the next few weeks and that things could get “awkward” at times, they need that confidence to see things through.

They certainly put themselves in a good position with their run against the Royals, Orioles, Rangers, A’s and Rockies, who came into play together on Thursday with a win ratio of .397 (a 125-190 record). But Cleveland’s mettle is about to be tested.

McKenzie admitted he was looking at his next two starts because of the opponent.

“One hundred percent,” he said. “I think as a starter we plan our starts and who we’re going to meet and I’m going to play my next two against Minnesota. I’m looking forward to that because these are big games for us. … We’re not happy with second place. We’re looking forward to going out there and competing and showing that we’re better than them.”

The next two-plus weeks will be instructive for the Guardians, but Francona has his finger on the pulse of Cleveland’s heartbeat.

“With youth comes some enthusiasm, it’s fun,” he said. “As long as they’re trying to do the right thing, it creates excitement for old guys like me, which is okay.”

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