Much has been made about the Cleveland Guardians' sputtering offense, and with good reason: The defending American League Central champions are averaging just 3.46 runs per game and are last in the league in runs, hits, homers, slugging and on-base percentage.
Yet the Guardians are still in the middle of the pack of the standings in the weak Central despite a sub-.500 record. Part of the reason might be Cleveland's unheralded bullpen -- and that bullpen is fairly rested and ready as the Guardians host the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday night in the second game of a three-game series.
Cleveland has the fifth-best bullpen ERA (3.28) in the majors and has allowed only 139 hits, second to the Houston Astros.
Guardians closer Emmanuel Clase shut down the Cardinals on Friday in Cleveland's 4-3 win, with a pair of strikeouts with the tying run on base for his major-league-best 17th save of the season.
But ahead of the closer, Guardians manager Terry Francona still has a fresh bunch of relievers.
Enyel De Los Santos needed only two pitches to induce a rally-killing double play Friday in the eighth, so he's available to Francona on Saturday.
Also rested are James Karinchak (24 games in relief), Nick Sandlin (18 games) and Sam Hentges, a mainstay of the 2022 club who has just returned to the bullpen this month after missing two months with left-shoulder soreness.
None of that trio threw more than 13 pitches Wednesday in a 6-0 loss to the Chicago White Sox.
"Don't be down on this bullpen just because they weren't perfect tonight," Francona said Friday after Clase gave up a run in the ninth. "We've got a lot of guys down there, and they're versatile -- and they like to pitch, which is a good quality."
Speaking through an interpreter, De Los Santos said, "It feels really good to have the manager's confidence and be ready whenever they call us. We keep it pretty simple. The focus is mainly to get outs, maintain that concentration and just get outs."
For the Cardinals, it's a matter of finding anyone who feels "fresh," because manager Oliver Marmol doesn't have many players who aren't under the strain of having played 15 games in as many days since their last day off, May 11.
St. Louis is 10-5 in that span.
After the two remaining games in Cleveland, the Cardinals will return home for two games against the Kansas City Royals before getting a rare two days off in a row starting May 31.
"Everyone's feeling these 19 in a row, but there's no excuse for it; we're going to continue to go out there and continue to play hard," Marmol said. "We know we have several games before we get two days off, but we gotta keep putting our heads down and going out and competing. It's a matter of fatigue more than anything."
Right-hander Jack Flaherty (3-4, 5.29 ERA) will take the mound for the Cardinals on Saturday against Guardians impressive rookie Tanner Bibee (1-1, 3.18), who will make the sixth start of his MLB career and first against St. Louis.
Flaherty has faced the Guardians twice in his seven-year career. He is 0-1 with a 5.00 ERA and has given up three home runs in nine innings against Cleveland, with both appearances in St. Louis.
--Field Level Media