When Will the Guardians Finally Get Their Offense Going?

Cleveland Guardians Offense
(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Imagine waking up in Cleveland in December 2022 to the exciting news that the Cleveland Guardians, the youngest team in baseball with a surprising offense and excellent pitching, have become the champions of the American League Central Division. The Guardians achieved this by walking off against the 86-win Tampa Bay Rays in a thrilling 15-inning game in early October, earning them a spot in the divisional round of the playoffs to face the New York Yankees.

Although the 2022 season came to an end shortly after, there was much to be optimistic about. The team managed to retain its core players, such as Jose Ramirez and Andres Gimenez, while also adding the powerful switch-hitting bat of Josh Bell to their lineup.

Guardians Lackluster Offense

Today, the Guardians find themselves in a challenging situation. With a current record of 24-29 and a team batting average of .225, which ranks as the sixth worst in baseball, they have experienced a cold streak with their young roster. In fact, their league-worst .640 OPS reflects their struggles during this unfamiliar phase.

Last year, the Guardians showed promise with a collective team batting average of .254 (7th in MLB) while ranking sixth in hits. Fans were hopeful for continued improvement, especially after the acquisition of Josh Bell and the departure of Austin Hedges in the offseason. However, the team has not lived up to expectations. Only Jose Ramirez and Steven Kwan are hitting above .250, and nobody is hitting above .300.

Josh Bell, who displayed impressive switch-hitting success with the Washington Nationals and San Diego Padres last year as the only switch hitter with 10+ home runs and a batting average over .260 from both sides, hasn’t performed as hoped in the first two months of the season. He currently holds a slash line of .227/.339/.353 with a 93 wRC+ and three home runs. The Guardians brought Bell in to bolster their lineup’s power, which was a weakness last season, but the team’s power production issues persist.

Slow Start for 2022 Breakout Gonzalez

Oscar Gonzalez, who was highly impressive last season, has struggled with a slash line of .190/.213/.288, leading to his demotion to Triple-A Columbus for further development. Another player of concern is Andres Gimenez, who had a breakout year in 2022. Gimenez posted an impressive slash line of .297/.371/.466 with 140 wRC+ and 17 home runs. The Guardians signed him to a lucrative seven-year, $106.5 million contract based on his performance. However, Gimenez’s production this year has been disappointing, slashing .226/.298/.342, only three home runs, and a 78 wRC+. Considering that his current performance is similar to his output in 2021, and his high batting average on balls in play last year was likely unsustainable, there is cause for concern.

Nevertheless, it is still early in the season, and there is hope on the horizon. Josh Naylor has recently found his groove, hitting .500 with 4 home runs and 12 RBIs in his last five games, bringing some much-needed power to the lineup. If other Guardians can follow suit, the team has the potential to overcome their struggles in April and May and transform into a different and more successful unit in June.

Guardians Pitching Attempts to Shoulder Burden

Arms such as Shane Bieber, Logan Allen, Emmanuel Clase, and Eli Morgan have helped alleviate the disappointment of the offensive struggles and the underperformance of Zach Plesac and Hunter Gaddis in the early stages of the season.

Bieber has secured forty-nine strikeouts, along with a 3.04 ERA in 71 innings pitched. He currently sits at 4-3 on the season. Morgan has been hot, with just over a 1.60 ERA over 16 games. Clase continues to Clase and has been one of the best closers in the league with 18 strikeouts in 25 games.

Plesac has been designated for assignment a few times and holds a 7.59 ERA in just five games. Gaddis has a 5.34 ERA in seven games and has 20 strikeouts.

Cleveland’s Ability to Bounce Back

While it’s easy to point fingers at the underachievers on the team during the first quarter of the season, some things remain consistent. The Guardians continue to have the lowest strikeout rate as a team, just as they did last year. However, like every team in a 162-game season, they are bound to experience losing streaks and rough patches. The Guardians demonstrated their ability to bounce back last season, leading to their 92-win campaign. Although the solution to the current puzzle of offensive struggles remains unclear, there is confidence that the team will figure things out.

With three-quarters of the season still ahead and only 4 1/2 games behind the first-place Minnesota Twins, there is ample time for the Guardians to turn things around. The team needs Josh Naylor to sustain his recent hot streak, and hope that other players will follow suit. Staying healthy and getting Triston McKenzie back on the mound will also be crucial for their success. McKenzie recently began his rehab assignment in Columbus, providing a glimmer of hope for his return.

Despite the challenges and disappointments of the early season, the Guardians are determined to overcome their current struggles and emerge as a competitive force. With perseverance, adjustments, and talent within their roster, they have the potential to transform their fortunes and make a strong push toward success in the remainder of the season.

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Nathan Leko

Senior student-athlete wrestler at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, covering the Cleveland Guardians and the AL Central.

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