The Cleveland Guardians (5-2, 1st AL Central) began their 2023 campaign against two American League West foes. The opening series pitted them against some pundit's pick to win the AL West Division this year, the Seattle Mariners. The Guardians took 3 of 4 from Seattle before heading down the Pacific Coast to the Bay Area to face off against the Oakland Athletics. Here's a deeper look at some of the biggest storylines that came from the first 7 games of the young campaign. Be sure to check out the latest Guardians of the CLE to hear more about the start of the Guardians season!
Time Not On Karinchak's Side
James Karinchak | GettyImages
One of the biggest rule changes entering this MLB season is the institution of the pitch clock. While the clock has been a part of the game at some of the minor league levels for the past couple of seasons, this is the first time it has been implemented at the Major League level. Overall, there have been few instances of it being a part of the outcome of the game. One of the exceptions is opening night in Seattle. With a favorable 0-2 count on Mariner JP Crawford, Karinchak took too long to deliver to the plate, resulting in a ball being assessed, changing the count to 1-2. The oft-eccentric reliever came unraveled in the following pitches leading to a walk. Following the walk, Karinchak hit Kolten Wong, putting two men on in the latter stages of a game deadlocked at 0 following a pitching clinic put on by dueling aces Shane Beiber and Seattle's Luis Castillo. What came next was a towering shot down the right field line by Ty France, making the score 3-0, which is how the opener ended.
New Season, Same Guardians!
One of the biggest storylines last season was how a group that made up the youngest team in baseball was winning games at the rate they were, leading into the play-offs and 'stealing' a game or two from the Yankees with timely hits and a focus on baserunning and maximizing on opponents errors, physical or mental. If the first week of the 2023 season has shown fans anything, that brand of Guardians baseball isn't going away with the acquisition of more potent power bats in Mike Zunino and Josh Bell. The Guardians key to success is still going first to third on seeing-eye singles, moving up on past balls, and beating out infield hits.
Gaddis Shines in The Bay
Hunter Gaddis | Jeff Chiu, AP
When Triston McKenzie went down right before the break of camp, Hunter Gaddis was thrust into the starting rotation. Rather than sliding everyone up a slot and penciling Gaddis in as the 5th starter, Terry Francona opted to slide Gaddis in at McKenzie's #2 spot in the rotation. That led to Gaddis going up against former Cy Young winner Robbie Ray in the 2nd game in Seattle. Gaddis labored through 3.2 innings, yielding 4 runs on 5 hits and a couple of free passes.
Start number 2 however was everything and more that Francona and Pitching Coach Carl Willis could have hoped for. The burly 24-year-old stymied the Athletics for 6 spectacular innings. Gaddis allowed only 1 hit with 1 walk while sending 4 A's back to the dugout talking to themselves.
Naylor Off to a Powerful Start
Josh Naylor | Sports Illustrated
Josh Naylor is the undisputed emotional leader of the Guardians. His passion for playing the game is infectious to teammates and fans alike. While at times last year it was evident the previous season's year-ending ankle injury hindered his performance, he finally looks as close to full strength as one could expect after such a gruesome injury. While his role will look different this year compared to last with the signing of Josh Bell, the time split between 1st base and Designated hitter with Bell should help keep him strong and fresh. If the first week is any indication, the ability to take some time off his feet while remaining in the line-up may see an increase in his power production, as Naylor leads the team with 2 visits to, as Guardians play-by-play broadcaster Matt Underwood calls it, "Souvenir City".
Straw Tied for League Lead in Steals
After signing a contract extension before the start of the 2022 campaign, Myles Straw had a season to forget. His batting average dropped 60 points from his 2021 output and his greatest asset offensively, his speed, was hampered by a lack of getting on base. If the first week of this season is any indication of what's to come this summer, the decision to lock Straw in as the center fielder for the Guardians for years to come will look like a smart decision by the Cleveland brass. Along with his league-leading 5 stolen bases thus far, Straw has played great defense, including a game-saving catch at the wall in the finale in Oakland.
The Boys are Back in Town!
The Guardians open the home portion of the 2023 year with the Seattle Mariners returning the favor as Home Opener opponent over the holiday weekend. Following a 3 game set with the Mariners, the Guardians welcome Aaron Judge and the New York Yankees to Cleveland for an early season rematch of last year's ALDS.