Can the Cleveland Guardians win the AL Central?

The Cleveland Guardians are currently 1.5 games up in the AL Central. It once seemed like a foregone conclusion that the Twins would win the division after “winning” the trade deadline, adding Michael Fulmer, Jorge Lopez and Tyler Mahle, though Minnesota has since faltered. This has allowed the Guardians to gain ground and take control of the division.

This is surprising since the Guardians didn’t look outside the organization to improve at the deadline. Keeping their players was a strong sign they weren’t selling and believed in this year’s team, and it’s starting to feel like the Guardians can claim this weak division. They now have four games left against the White Sox and eight against the Twins. If they can continue to play better than .500 baseball against them, they should be able to win the Central. They’re 9-6 against the White Sox and 6-5 against Minnesota at this point – the Guardians could certainly be viewed as the favorites.

A big reason why the Guardians are in first is because of the breakout of second baseman Andrés Giménez. The Fransisco Lindor trade is looking better and better each day, but that’s not to say It isn’t working out for the Mets, either. This is a fascinating debate, as both players have a similar WAR. Giménez is 4.4 and Lindor is 5.3. Giménez has an OPS of .868, 14 home runs, 58 RBI and 15 stolen bases. Lindor has an OPS of .805 with 21 home runs, 84 RBI and 13 stolen bases. As of last week, Giménez has saved six runs combined at second base and shortstop with a zone rating of 3.1. Lindor has saved two runs with a zone rating of -0.2. There are plenty of arguments to be made that Giménez is having a better season. The Guardians couldn’t have imagined this in their wildest dreams.

Of course Amed Rosario was also part of the trade and he’s been having a solid season as well. Rosario is fourth on the Guardians with a WAR of 2.2, has 11 stolen bases and has been playing better defense than most people imagined. His bat is slightly above average with an OPS+ of 109 and he leads the team with 69 runs scored.

The Guardians also designated Franmil Reyes for assignment earlier this season, and they haven’t looked back. He was supposed to be one of their better hitters, but his OPS was barely over 600. Oscar Gonzalez has been a big part of the reason why they were able to do this. Josh Naylor and rookie Steven Kwan have been good for the majority of the season as well. Naylor has 15 home runs with an OPS just over .800, and he has had countless clutch hits. Kwan has an OPS of .769 with 12 stolen bases.

But Gonzalez was truly the extra piece they needed to fill out their lineup. Since returning to their lineup on August 2nd, he has hit .349 with an OPS of .883. He has hit one home run and driven in seven runs during this time. At 24 years old, this is the type of player that can solidify their lineup for years to come.

José Ramírez is still the best hitter on the team, but he finally has the help that he’s desperately needed. He has 22 home runs with an OPS just under 900 and 14 stolen bases. He’s neck-and-neck with Giménez with basically an identical WAR.

Get ready, Cleveland – the postseason could be coming soon for this surprising Guardians team.