This past weekend did not go as planned for the Cleveland Guardians. They entered their series against the Boston Red Sox riding high, having won 15 of 19 games in June. Unfortunately, Cleveland’s luck shifted against the Sox, as they fell victim to a three-game sweep. Even so, the Guardians have exceeded expectations so far. They entered the season as underdogs in the AL Central, with the Chicago White Sox being heavy favorites. Chicago has struggled to find their footing this year, as they remain under .500. That has opened the door for other teams in the division. The Guardians recovered nicely from a pedestrian start and find themselves contending in the Central, only three games out. They now pivot to a crucial five-game set with the Minnesota Twins, who sit in first place. Let’s take a closer look at the Guardians’ season so far.
Guardians Contending in AL Central
The biggest area of improvement by the Guardians compared to last year is the offense. In 2021, their team average of .238 ranked 11th in the American League. This year, they have upped that figure to .250, good for fifth in the AL. Cleveland is also seventh in the league in runs scored this year (308) after finishing ninth last year. Leading the charge for the Guardians offense in 2022 is Jose Ramirez. The third baseman has put himself in the MVP conversation by consistently driving in runs. He currently leads the league with 63 RBI. Add to that the nice round numbers of a .300 average and 1.000 OPS, and it shows what a good all-around hitter he is. Besides Ramirez, other contributors at the plate include Andres Gimenez, whose .318 average leads the team, Josh Naylor, and Owen Miller. All three have driven in at least 30 runs this season.
The rotation has been led, unsurprisingly, by Shane Bieber. The former Cy Young winner has a 3.o7 ERA in 2022, with 88 strikeouts and a 125 ERA+. The Guardians possess the sixth-best team ERA in the AL (3.75). However, the flashiest numbers on the Cleveland staff come courtesy of the bullpen, not the rotation. The team possesses a trio of relievers with a WHIP under 1.000 in 2022: Eli Morgan (0.618), Sam Hentges (0.923), and Emmanuel Clase (0.791). After finishing fifth in Rookie of the Year voting last year, Clase has continued his rise as an elite closer this season. He has locked down 17 saves thus far (tied with Toronto’s Jordan Romano for the AL lead), owns a stellar 1.48 ERA, and is averaging just over a strikeout per inning. If Cleveland manages to make the postseason, the bullpen, headed by Clase, will be a huge reason why.
Outlook in Cleveland
Even though the Guardians are mired in a five-game losing streak, they remain in the thick of the AL Central race. The fact that they sniffed the division lead as late as last week should give them confidence that they can keep pace. If the White Sox continue treading water, Cleveland should feel confident about their chances. It will likely be easier to keep pace with the Twins than it would be to catch a White Sox team that lived up to expectations. The Guardians are currently tied in the loss column with Minnesota, so doing well the rest of this series could help them quickly gain ground.
It’s been an up and down season in Cleveland, but overall they’ve outperformed expectations. The fact that the Guardians are still contending late in the first half should be cause for celebration. If Cleveland is to go to the postseason, Jose Ramirez and an elite bullpen should be the ideal recipe.