Cleveland Guardians: What’s the true identity of this team?
Who are the 2022 Cleveland Guardians? Are they the team that walked off the Minnesota Twins twice to end the month of June? The team that took two of three games from the world-beating Los Angeles Dodgers? Or are they the team that got swept by the reeling Detroit Tigers and couldn’t really hang with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees?
Is Cleveland a team still in the midst of a rebuild that is still a few pieces – and years of experience – away from playoff contention? Or is this a middle-of-the-road team full of players who will be out of MLB in three years? Conversations change almost daily at this juncture, as fans try to place their finger on the particular lens through which to view this team. The Guardians are too young to be overly critical, but well-versed enough to throw some jabs at.
I’ve gone through the same merry-go-round with this team. It is so fun to watch them win and play well. It’s clear there’s bursting talent on this team, but the losses are so infuriating it hurts. This team reminds me of a 21-year-old college kid. They’ve got all the potential, and others know one day they’ll figure it out and make something successful of themselves, but they can’t get out of their own way sometimes.
How many times did you screw up at 21? How many serious conversations with yourself or others took place after a misstep or mistake? Eventually, you learned and eventually you figured things out and settled into a solid place in life, but there were definitely some lean weeks, months or even years. The Guardians are the same way. Collectively, they’re a young, hungry and somewhat chaotic team moving at the speed of light, just like a college kid.
This season has been a grueling process of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks for Terry Francona and company. Weeding out some players like Bradley Zimmer and Logan Allen is part of that maturation process. Think of them like the bad habits you shook and left behind in college. Gabriel Arias and Oscar Gonzalez’s “swing at anything” approach is baseball’s version of trying new things and learning from mistakes at a young age.
Cleveland’s 0.64 errors per game (seventh-worst in baseball) are evidence the team isn’t ready. Dropped fly balls, Triston McKenzie giving up nearly two home runs per start, Owen Miller booting balls at first – these are all signs that it’s a young team. The walk-offs, Zach Plesac’s throw to first while falling toward third and Steven Kwan’s electric catches demonstrate the glimpses of potential the Guardians can showcase. Think of the best internship or job you landed at an early age.
So what’s the best way to view this team? They’re streaky, fun and frustrating. How do you deal with a college kid? Understanding, patience and a little bit of tough love and reprimanding when they most deserve it. Every time Franmil Reyes strikes out on a slider way out of the zone, take a deep breath; he’s got the power to be a solid designated hitter. Every time Andrés Giménez throws erratically from shortstop, don’t worry; he’s got the glove to be an everyday infielder.
It’s not all going to come together this season or next, but don’t start calling for people’s heads just yet. Give the kids some time to grow up, and give them the patience they need to learn from their mistakes.