For the last decade, the Cleveland baseball organization has been the standard bearer for pitching in Major League Baseball. No matter the amount of money (or lack thereof) Team President Chris Antonetti and General Manager Mike Chernoff spend on other aspects of the team, they always seem to be in playoff contention due to their starting pitching.
Last season, the then-Indians lost all five of their starting pitchers before the All-Star break. With all the injuries to the rotation, the Tribe slipped away in the AL Central and sold key pieces in Cesar Hernandez and Eddie Rosario to playoff contenders at the trade deadline. While the likelihood of all five starting pitchers being out before the All-Star break again is unlikely, the Guardians are still relying too much on their starting rotation for the 2022 season.
In 2021, the team tied with the Mets and A’s for 21st in batting average with a .238. They finished No. 22 in hits as a team. Those numbers won’t equate to many runs scored throughout a 162 game season, and the proof is in the pudding. The Tribe finished 18th in runs scored during the 2021 season.
The team that took the field in 2021 is almost a duplicate of the team that will take the field April 7th against the Kansas City Royals to open up the 2022 season. Minus a potential change in the outfield, and Austin Hedges becoming the primary catcher after Roberto Perez bolted for Pittsburgh, most of the lineup is still intact, though a lot of fans and analysts view the “building from within” mindset the Guardians have used this offseason as the wrong one. The team is currently second to last in payroll money. Most models have the Cleveland baseball franchise ranked third or fourth in the AL Central. The Guardians seem complacent with the old adage: “Pitching wins”.
Personally, I have mixed feelings on the 2022 Guardians. I’m somebody who typically does believe in the “pitching over hitting” philosophy, which is why I think they can compete for a playoff spot and finish at least second in the division. We have seen the teams’ starting pitching be decimated over the last few seasons by injury. As great of a phenom as Shane Beiber is, as fantastic as Aaron Civale, Zach Plesac, Cal Quantrill and Triston McKenzie are, as great of a sixth starter as Eli Morgan can be, we saw the consequences of what too much pitching can do to a pitcher’s arm last season. The organization may be great at developing pitchers, but they don’t have five guys in the minors ready to go that can replace all five starters.
Not all five starters will end the season as a starter. It’s rare that the same five guys stay healthy in the rotation all season long. A guy like Plesac may wind up on the trade block come summertime if the team feels comfortable about their pitching depth, and they can upgrade significantly at the plate.
With the current projection of the Guardians offensive production for 2022, Beiber, Civale, Plesac, Quantrill and McKenzie are going to have to log long innings for this team to stay competitive throughout at least the first half of the season. Out of all the starters, Plesac and Quantrill are tied for the oldest in age at 27.
They may be young, but I don’t know if they can last a full season. Either the Guardians improve the lineup, or they have a super lucky year where the rotation stays relatively healthy. Other than that, it could be a long season at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario.
The Guards brass is hoping for the latter. I hope they’re right. I’m just not so sure they are.
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