Start packing in those Cleveland Guardians playoff hopes if you haven't already

The 2023 season has been a rocky road for the Cleveland Guardians, and their playoff hopes are quickly fading.
Cleveland Guardians v Cincinnati Reds
Cleveland Guardians v Cincinnati Reds / Dylan Buell/GettyImages

The time has come to face reality and accept that the Cleveland Guardians just don't have the juice this year.

That has likely been apparent to many of you for quite some time, and we all come to the inevitable conclusion eventually. But after a lackluster weekend against the Detroit Tigers, in which the Guardians lost three of four, it's time to bury the 2023 season and start thinking ahead to the greener pastures of 2024.

Sure, the Guardians sit "just" six games back of the Minnesota Twins heading into Tuesday's play, with six more games still left against the Twins this season. But it's clear the team just isn't built for sustainable success this season.

Some of it is just bad luck. Losing the likes of Shane Bieber, Triston McKenzie, and now Josh Naylor for an extended period of time would be a tough hurdle for any team to overcome, let alone a team that was already struggling to stay relevant in the postseason discussion.

But the big question moving forward for Cleveland will be how it fixes a truly anemic offense that has managed to hit a paltry, embarrassing 89 home runs this season and is clearly deficient at a number of positions. If the Guardians want to even think about contending in 2024, they need to make some tough decisions on the following:

Is Gabriel Arias really part of this team's future?

He has just 234 plate appearances this season, but they've been underwhelming, as Arias sports just a .197/.286/.332 slash line with a whopping 78 strikeouts. Maybe it's time to just hand the keys over to Brayan Rocchio moving forward.

Does the team even have a right fielder?

Right now, it's hard to say a reliable right fielder could come from within the organization to help as early as next season, which makes the current success of guys like Will Benson and Nolan Jones all the more painful. Looking outside the organization for an impact bat of even moderate potential is likely going to be a necessity this offseason. Despite a decent stretch from Oscar Gonzalez since coming back from Triple-A Columbus, it doesn't seem like the organization is sold on him for the long-term by any means.

What's going on with the bullpen?

Maybe it's just more of that bad luck, but Emmanuel Clase leads all of baseball with nine blown saves this year. If you give even half of those back to the Guardians as wins, the AL Central race looks a lot different heading into September. But the fact is that teams are figuring Clase out a bit more as the velocity on both his cutter and four-seamer has been down. The rest of the bullpen has been middling enough since July to warrant looking at things a bit closer this offseason.

What is Myles Straw's future in Cleveland?

Whatever it is, it simply cannot be as the everyday center fielder. He's still vital to the success of this team moving forward, but his future is likely best served as a fourth outfielder/defensive replacement/pinch runner when needed.

These are just a few burning questions that absolutely need to be addressed this offseason. But the good news is that rookies like Gavin Williams, Tanner Bibee, and Logan Allen appear to be the real deal, which makes a potential 2024 rotation that includes Bieber and McKenzie potentially the best in all of baseball.

But until the Guardians figure out their offense - the acquisition of Kyle Manzardo suggests they're well aware of their deficiencies - the best pitching in the world might not make a difference. Hopefully the 2023 season isn't a total waste, as Cleveland is getting extended looks at guys like Arias, Will Brennan, Tyler Freeman and more, and the Guardians should be able to move on where needed.

This year can't be seen as anything other than a disappointment, though, and the Guardians are going to need to take a long, hard look in the mirror this offseason.