In 2022, the Cleveland Guardians won the AL Central but lost to the New York Yankees in the Wild Card round in the playoffs. Nevertheless, the Guardians exceeded the expectations of many within baseball when they won the division. Led by Shane Bieber and Jose Ramirez, the Guardians look to continue their success in 2023.
Anyone else just really excited for Guardians baseball to be back next week? pic.twitter.com/eSPq6D5Tke
— ESPN Cleveland (@ESPNCleveland) March 24, 2023
Cleveland Guardians Season Preview
Most importantly, the Guardians are entering 2023 with most of their 2022 squad intact. Last year’s starting catcher, Austin Hedges, has been replaced by Mike Zunino. Zunino played for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2022, seeing action in 36 games but only hitting .148 with five home runs. However, when given more playing time, Zunino has displayed power numbers, having hit at least 20 home runs on four occasions since entering the league in 2013. In 2021, Zunino hit 31 home runs in 109 games for the Rays but only managed a .216 batting average.
Guardians’ offense shouldn’t be much of a concern entering the scene. Andrés Giménez, Ahmed Rosario, and Steven Kwan all had fantastic years for the Guardians. Kwan especially stood out early in 2022, displaying an excellent eye at the plate. In fact, according to Elias Sports Bureau, Kwan saw 116 pitches in 2022 before having a swing and miss. Kwan is proving to be one of the best leadoff men in baseball.
Signing Josh Bell
The Guardians’ biggest acquisition offensively was the signing of first baseman Josh Bell. In 2022, the Guardians needed a powerful bat aside from Jose Ramirez, who led the team with 29 home runs. The Guardians played more of a contact game, with every consistent player managing to hit at least 22 doubles, aside from the catcher position. The addition of Bell brings much-needed pop in the middle of the lineup to help protect Ramirez. In 2019, Bell hit a career-high 37 home runs and drove in 116 runs for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Last year between the Nationals and Padres, Bell hit only 17 home runs but had 29 doubles, which would fit in with the Guardians’ style of play, regardless.
Including Josh Naylor and Oscar Gonzalez, there is potential for some extra pop from the Guardians. Naylor often swings out of his cleats, and when he makes contact, the ball goes far. Gonzalez has shown the ability to hit the ball anywhere on the field and continues to look comfortable at the plate.
Guardians Starting Pitching
The Guardians have an impressive 1-2 punch in the AL Central, led by Shane Bieber and Triston McKenzie. Cal Quantrill had a tremendous second half in 2022 that included not having a losing performance from July 11th onward. Quantrill had a 4-5 record entering the game against the Chicago White Sox on July 11th and finished the regular season 15-5 with a 3.38 ERA. Quantrill didn’t lose a single home game during the 2022 season. That’s a remarkable feat.
It’s unlikely that Quantrill will achieve that same success all year for the Guardians. Thus, there could be some regression as a whole for the team. In addition, their projected fourth and fifth starters, Aaron Civale and Zac Plesac, haven’t been overly consistent. Thus, 2023 could rely heavily on the success of Bieber and McKenize unless Quantrill can continue his regular-season solid performances.
Guardians Relief Pitching
If the Guardians starters past Bieber and McKenzie can keep a lead after five or six innings, then more often than not, the Guardians will be in good shape. That is in large part because of the strong bullpen the team has. Led by closer Emmanuel Clase, the Guardians have great arms to choose from. James Karinchak finished 2022 with a 2.08 ERA. He didn’t allow a run in four appearances in the playoffs against the Rays, and Yankees Karinchak has become a fantastic setup man for the Guardians.
Meanwhile, the rest of the bullpen will feature Trevor Stephen, Sam Hentges, Enyel De Los Santos, and Eli Morgan, all slated to be part of the bullpen in 2023. Morgan is someone to keep an eye out for. Eli finished the 2022 season with a 3.38 ERA and only allowed one run in the last month of the season.
Impact of Hentges Missing Time
Hentges, the only left-handed out of the pen, is expected to start the season on the IL due to shoulder inflammation. Due to the injury, Daniel Norris signed a minor league contract as a possible short-term replacement if needed. Norris pitched for the Cubs and Tigers in 2022. Norris had some success in fourteen games, with the Tigers winning two games, and finished with an ERA of 3.45. While with the Cubs, Norris pitched in 27 games and had an ERA of 6.90. Daniel’s strikeouts were higher, with the Cubs managing 43 in 30 innings.
When primarily working against left-handed hitters, hitters mustered only a .176 BA and a .326 SLG% during the ’22 season. However, righties had significantly better numbers, with a .233 BA and a .486% during the ’22 season. By comparison, Hentges produced great numbers against lefties and righties. Hentges kept lefties to a .143BA and .176 SLG% during the ’22 season. Righties didn’t do much better, finishing with .215BA and .315% SLG%. If Norris reaches MLB action, his action likely would be limited to primarily left-handed hitters and potentially low-pressure moments.
The AL Central could end up being a close race between the Guardians, Minnesota Twins, and the Chicago White Sox. If the Soxs can maintain a healthy club, they could be the favorites to win the division of the Guardians. However, health is never guaranteed and is difficult to accomplish during a gruelling MLB season.
The Twins had a disappointing 2022 season, but Carlos Correa returned to the team, and Joe Ryan had a breakout season last year. While they traded away Luis Alvarez, the Twins received a quality pitcher from the Miami Marlins in Pablo López. Jhoan Duran may be their closer and anchor Minnesota’s bullpen to shore up wins throughout the season.
There’s the Royal and Tigers to close out the division. Both teams are likely still a few years away from contending, but they have the makings of being competitive. The Royals have star shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., catcher Salvador Perez leading, and up-and-coming first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino. Meanwhile, the Tigers have several prospects and potential in the form of outfielder Riley Greene, first baseman Spencer Torkelson and starting pitcher Spencer Turnbull to keep an eye on.
Manager Terry Francona returns for his eleventh season as the manager of the Cleveland Guardians. Francona has a record of 845-671 with the Guardians, including four AL Central championships and an AL Pennant in 2016.
The Guardians begin 2023 on March 30th on the road against the Seattle Mariners at 10:10 PM ET. Shane Bieber is the Opening Day starter. The Mariners have announced Luis Castillo as their Opening Day starter.
Shane Bieber, Jose Ramirez, Austin Hedges, Mike Zunino, Andrés Giménez, Steven Kwan, Josh Bell, Josh Naylor, Oscar Gonzalez, Triston McKenzie, Cal Quantrill, Aaron Civale, Sam Hentges, Enyel De Los Santos, Emmanuel Clase, James Karinchak, Eli Morgan, Daniel Norris, Carlos Correa, Joe Ryan, Luis Alvarez, Pablo López, Jhoan Duran, Bobby Witt Jr., Salvador Perez, Vinnie Pasquantino, Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson, Spencer Turnbull, Terry Francona, Luis Castillo