We’ve been here before with the Cleveland Guardians. A year ago, to be precise, but it seems like we go through this every year.
In 2016, they were 10-12 on the first of May, six games out of first. Five weeks later, they took over first place and were never caught until Game 7 of the World Series. The next year, they putzed around .500 until the middle of June, then blew away the field to win the AL Central by 17 games, including an epic 22-game winning streak down the stretch.
Last year, the Guardians started out 7-12, didn’t get above .500 for good until just before the All-Star break, then won 50 of their last 78 games to win the division by 11. Areas that were perceived as weaknesses, like right field and the bullpen, solidified as players developed. In general, the season followed the pattern that Terry Francona always seems to follow: don’t panic, give players time to figure it out. When they do, the team takes off like a rocket.
Which is why nobody is panicking too much about the current state of the Cleveland Guardians.
Which, to be blunt, isn’t great. Cleveland has lost five of its last six series, despite playing only one team with a winning record in that stretch. Their 12-13 record probably overstates their performance so far, between their weak schedule and the fact that they are 4-0 in extra-inning games. They have two starters on the disabled list, and several key hitters struggling to stay above the Mendoza line. They have two more home runs than Max Muncy, plus they can’t hit lefthanders to save their lives.
And yet … it somehow feels inevitable that things will work out. Part of that is the benefit of life in the AL Central, where the Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals have seemingly already played themselves out of contention, the Tigers are too early in their rebuild, and the Twins likely have a ceiling of 86-88 wins. That allows the Guardians enough of a cushion that they can muddle through for another month or two and still make a run.
And, bad as things have been, there is reason for optimism. Three rookie pitchers (Peyton Battenfield, Logan Allen, and Tanner Bibee) have made spot starts and looked like they might be part of the next wave of stud starting pitchers, along with Gavin Williams, who has allowed one run in three starts at Double-A Akron. Mike Zunino has solidified the catching spot, and Myles Straw seems revived.
Beyond that, it comes down to Francona doing what he always does. Be patient with the veterans until they find their groove, mold a bunch of unknowns into a bullpen capable of winning games, and use the massive depth in the organization to solve the problems that don’t solve themselves. Most of all, do the little things that allow the Guardians to win the games they should win, plus a few more.