The Guardians’ roster has been rebuilt in a relatively short amount of time, and yet, they are a group of players who confidently know who they are and how they want to play the game.
And all of this has led them to the doorstep of an unlikely division crown in 2022.
With the youngest roster in baseball—younger than some Triple-A clubs around the league—the Guardians have forged a cohesive group that not only avoided collapse during their first playoff push but excelled when it mattered most.
The Guardians, with Friday’s 6-3 win over the Texas Rangers, have won 14 of their last 16 games. Their magic number dropped to three, making the division title possible on this road trip and before the team returns home for a nine-game homestand to end the regular season.
Last week, Chicago White Sox shortstop Elvis Andrus said he knew the Guardians would “fall out.” Last week, the Guardians went into Chicago and defeated the White Sox 22-11 en route to a three-game sweep that effectively ended the American League Central Division race.
On the field, it could be argued that the development of the Guardians’ players is second to none in football. Shane Bieber had a torrid season and took a velocity drop to put up Bieber-like peak performances. Triston McKenzie has matured into a top-level starting outfield. The bullpen has been arguably the best in baseball since the All-Star break, anchored by All-Star Emmanuel Clase and bolstered by strong contributions from Trevor Stephan, James Karinchak , Sam Hentges, Eli Morgan and Nick Sandlin.
Offensively, it can be summed up in two ways: contact and base running. The Guardians have built an elite lineup in both categories, and in doing so, have exceeded outside expectations in several ways.
The Guardians lead the football with a contact rate of 80.9 percent. The closet team for them, the Houston Astros, is at 78.6 percent. The difference between the Guardians and second place is greater than the difference between 2nd and 17th place.
The Guardians have four of the AL’s top 20 hitters in terms of contact rate: Steven Kwan (2nd, 92.1 percent), Myles Straw (4th, 89.3), Jose Ramirez (11th, 86.6) and Amed Rosario (20th, 81.5 ). That’s the only team with four winners in the top 20.
On the basepaths, the Guardians entered Friday night first in the American League and fourth in baseball with 265 instances of runners advancing from first to third by one, behind the Los Angeles Dodgers ( 285), St. Louis Cardinals (271) only. and San Diego Padres (266). They are also third with 105 stolen bases.
A point of emphasis for manager Terry Francona this spring has been aggressiveness and a high level of effort on the basepaths. He said from Day One that it was the style of baseball the Guardians would have to play to succeed. Follow the players through that message.
And in those ways, the Guardians have a traditional style of attack, continuing to play the ball and play an offensive base more than any other team in the game today. It’s become a brand, and in a few days, it’ll likely lead to their first AL Central title since 2018.
“I think we’re taking a lot of pressure off the way we’re playing,” pitcher Shane Bieber said recently. “Amed got in touch, we play an energetic, exciting and happy brand of basketball. We bring the same energy day in and day out. It’s just a lot of fun to be a part of when you come to the stadium and there’s a special aura that everybody’s looking forward to going out there and doing their job and winning. It’s fun to be apart of it right now.”
Ryan Lewis can be reached at email@example.com. Read more about the Guardians at www.beaconjournal.com/sports/cleveland-guardians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.
Time: 2:35pm Sunday
television: Great Lakes Bally Sports
Peers: Aaron Civale (2-6, 5.29) vs Cole Ragans (0-2, 5.40)
This article originally appeared on the Akron Beacon Journal: The Guardians brand of baseball is about to play them