Updated: Sep 20, 2022
Photo: Eon Schwane / AP
The Cleveland Guardians: A name that caused outrage and downright apathy throughout the Cleveland baseball fanbase all winter. The front office did not help win fans over when they did not make a single move when the lockout ended. Their philosophy was simple: We are playing the "kids". President of Baseball Operations Chris Antonetti and company have stood firm on this idea by standing pat at the trade deadline as well. The Guardians not only have the youngest roster in Major League Baseball, but AAA as well. As of August 16th, the Guardians sit eight games above .500 at 62-54, two games ahead in the AL Central.
There is no way to talk about the success of this team without talking about the young "kids". Sure, we all know Jose Ramirez anchors this lineup. Despite a two month slump in terms of Jose standards, he is still batting .281 with 22 home runs and 94 runs batted in. He is only three behind Aaron Judge for the league lead in extra base hits with 62. A year ago, this team would not have been able to withstand a two month stretch where Jose’s infield pop up percentage sky rocketed. There were too many holes. This year, the Guards are getting contributions throughout their entire lineup.
Things really turned around when Steven Kwan was moved to the leadoff spot. He has an insane eye at the plate and will not bite at anything outside the strike zone. He has more walks (42) than strikeouts (38) while having a 19-game hitting streak, which only ended due to having to leave the August 5th game against Houston after getting hit in the foot. After a dreadful May, he has sustained a near .300 average. The kid just gets on base. Oh yeah, and he is a rookie.
Speaking of rookies, 14 prospects have made their major league debuts this season, almost all of them having an impact in one way or another. These include:
Fan favorite Oscar Gonzalez
Believe it or not, some of the top prospects have not even debuted yet. Right fielder George Valera, shortstop Brayan Rocchio, starting pitchers Daniel Espino and Gavin Williams and catcher Bo Naylor (brother of Josh) have not yet played at Progressive Field.
I came into the season expecting Brayan Rocchio and Tyler Freeman to be the middle infield combination beginning in 2023 for the next decade, but Amed Rosario and Andres Gimenez have shined at short and second base respectively. Rosario has done nothing but hit... all year long. He is hitting .283 with blazing speed once he reaches base. He has also added some power with 8 home runs.
I am running out of words to describe Andres Gimenez. After a forgettable 2021 season, he did nothing but work out in Florida most of the off-season. He was determined to be in the Guardians long term plans. Hard work pays off, as he started the All-Star Game for the American League and is arguably the best second baseman in all of baseball while playing gold glove defense. The kid is unbelievably clutch (as I am typing this, he just blasted a homer to give the Guardians a 3-1 lead over the Tigers in Game 1 of a doubleheader on August 15th), hitting nearly .380 with runners in scoring position. Overall, he boasts a .312 average (6th in the league) to go along with 14 dingers and 56 RBI's. I think he has earned himself a conversation about a long-term contract.
I have not even been able to talk about the pitching with how good the offense has been, but the pitching will make or break this team. All season, the starting rotation has been inconsistent. The offense still found ways to pick them up when they fell. Whether it was Shane Bieber’s drop in velocity, Triston McKenzie’s home run issues or Aaron Civale’s inability to stay healthy, this rotation could not find a rhythm. That has changed in the last two turns through the rotation where all five of them have been dominant. It seems as though these guys have hit their stride at the perfect time.
The bullpen has been just as dominant lately. That was not on my Bingo card heading into the season. It was a bullpen made up of failed starters, and guys no other teams wanted. Early in the year, it was Eli Morgan dominating the league with a lethal curveball. Now, it is guys like James Karinchak, Nick Sandlin and Trevor Stephen building the bridge to the league’s best closer Emmanuel Clase, who is fifth in baseball with 27 saves.
This team is clicking on all cylinders right now. Tito has this group of "kids" believing in themselves. They have only lost one series since the end of June. They have the best record in the American League since July 14th, and they are starting to pull away from the rest of the Central Division.
I am calling it now: The Cleveland Guardians will be your 2022 American League Central Division Champions. If they can just whether the storm for the next couple of weeks, they will take the division crown. After this home stand, they head out west for two in San Diego, four in Seattle and then come back to play Baltimore and Seattle at home. They end the regular season with six at home against Kansas City. Chicago and Minnesota will be fighting it out.
I know they have to make the playoffs first, but I believe this season will feel a lot like 2016. A year ahead of schedule and super talented in all aspects of the game. Will they hoist the World Series trophy when it’s all said and done? No one knows, but this team is fun and really good, and it is time we start paying attention, Cleveland.
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