Are the Cleveland Guardians pretenders or contenders?
The Cleveland Guardians are the youngest team in baseball with a surprisingly potent offense, but can this team continue to contend for a playoff spot?
As the Guardians sit at 17-19, currently in third place in the AL Central and the expanded postseason of six teams in each league loom later this year, does Cleveland have a chance to make the playoffs? The main question is: Can their offense hold up throughout the season?
So far, the Guardians have continued to surprise offensively, with the fifth-best OPS in the American League at .707. This has translated to Cleveland scoring 169 runs, which is sixth in the AL. The biggest reason for this has been breakthrough performances from players like Josh Naylor, Andres Gimenez, Steven Kwan and Owen Miller, along with the customary MVP-esque start from Jose Ramirez.
Naylor had a series for the ages against the White Sox earlier this month, and at 24 years old, batting .347/.377/.611 with five home runs, 22 RBIs and a 188 OPS+, it’s very possible he could be coming into his own. He is in the top 89th percentile in hard-hit balls, top 94% in expected batting average and 95th in expected slugging.
Gimenez has surprised with an OPS over .850. He’s hit four home runs with 20 RBIs and three stolen bases, cementing himself as an everyday bat in the lineup. Miller has already almost passed his home run and RBI totals from last season and currently maintains a fantastic .286/.342/.514 line. The rookie Kwan has cooled off recently, but he still has a 0.5 WAR and makes contact at an extremely high rate. These four players will regress to a certain degree, but there’s no denying their talent.
As for the Guardians’ pitching staff, can it get back on track and help support the resurgent hitting? There have been signs of life from the rotation, and the back-end of the bullpen is in good shape, but the dynamic of the offense carrying the team is a far cry from recent seasons.
As this young Cleveland team finds its way and continues to tread water through this early part of the season, the playoffs – and even the division – remain a possibility.