Cleveland Guardians Last Season Performance
Cleveland’s 2021 campaign started off well. They were hanging around the top of the division with the Chicago White Sox thanks to their strong starting pitching. But then the injuries begin to take place.
Shane Bieber, Zach Plesac, and Aaron Civale all missed time due to injury, and at one point Cleveland featured a minor league-esque starting rotation. When you factor that with an offense that ranked near the bottom of the league, it is no wonder that the Guardians fell off track.
All in all, it was far from an awful season. They still finished second in the division with an 80-82 record. But it was the first time since 2012 that they finished with a record below .500.
Many people around baseball are wondering if 2021 signified the end of the Guardian’s strong play over the 2010’s decade, or if it was just a blip in the radar.
The team needs hitting if they want to bounce back in 2022.
Jose Ramirez is arguably the best third baseman in baseball. J-Ram smashed 36 homers while posting a slash line of .266/.355/.538.
Franmil Reyes does a good job of protecting Ramirez in the lineup. Even though he missed some time due to injury, Reyes hit 30 home runs and had a .522 slugging percentage.
The only other reliable hitter in the lineup was Amed Rosario. Rosario was one of four players Cleveland got in return for Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco in the 2020 offseason deal with the Mets.
Although Cleveland fans were disappointed in the return at first, Rosario ended up leading the team in batting average with a mark of .282. He also hit 11 home runs and swiped 13 bags.
But the pitching is what makes this team tick.
Shane Bieber enjoyed an all-star caliber season before enduring a season-ending injury. Technically, he did come back in the final week of the season and pitch a few innings, but the injury took him out for almost the entire year.
Bieber still finished with a 3.17 ERA. He will look to continue pitching well and stay healthy in 2022.
Civale worked around some injuries of his own and ended up posting a 3.84 ERA over the course of 21 games. Zach Plesac labored and ended up with an ERA of 4.60, but he still has the potential to be a quality arm in this rotation moving forward.
Other intriguing arms are Cal Quantrill, Triston McKenzie, and Eli Morgan.
Emmanuel Clase broke out as a star relief pitcher for Cleveland. After battling with James Karinchak for the closer’s role during the first half of the year, Karinchak began to struggle and Clase heated up. He finished the season with 24 saves and a 1.29 ERA.
His 100 MPH cutter is worth the price of admission.
But Karinchak is another fireball arm out of the Cleveland bullpen. Although his stats dipped due to his late-season struggles, Karinchak was brilliant through the first half of 2021. His regression was likely due to being overworked.
He should be in line for a rebound campaign in 2022. Expect the Guardians to manage his usage carefully at the beginning of the year.
So while the season would be labeled as a failure in comparison to Cleveland’s results over the past few years, there were still signs of hope.
Cleveland Guardians Off-Season Changes
Not much has changed in Cleveland over the offseason from a roster standpoint. However, just about everything has changed from a marketing/branding standpoint.
The 2021 season was the final year in which Cleveland’s nickname of the “Indians” would be utilized. The team is now called the Cleveland Guardians, ending an over 100-year span of Indian baseball.
They now feature new logos, color schemes, etc. But this is still the same team as last year, just with a new name and a new look.
The Guardians made a number of under-the-radar moves in November, as they traded outfielder Harold Ramirez to the Chicago Cubs for cash and RHP J.C. Mejia to the Milwaukee Brewers for a player to be named later.
Cleveland Guardians Key Additions
Cleveland has not made many noteworthy additions during the 2021-2022 offseason.
The biggest move was signing backup catcher Sandy Leon to a contract. Leon is a quality clubhouse presence and is a steady veteran backstop, but Cleveland has yet to address their offensive needs.
They desperately need outfield help in addition to a few extra bullpen arms. Their starting rotation has plenty of depth, and the infield looks ready to roll.
However, a right-handed platoon bat might not be the worst acquisition at first base if Bobby Bradley continues to labor against left-handed pitching. In all reality, any form of offense they can add will be crucial as well.
Cleveland Guardians Key Subtractions
The Guardians have been fairly busy from a subtraction standpoint.
In November, relief pitchers Bryan Shaw and Blake Parker entered free agency, and catchers Roberto Perez and Wilson Ramos became free agents. Perez is the notable name of the group, as he has established a reputation as one of the best defensive catchers in baseball over the past few seasons.
But he signed a deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates officially ending his tenure in Cleveland for now.
The trades of Harold Ramirez and J.C. Mejia were fairly surprising. Cleveland needs all of the outfield help it can get and Ramirez is a decent hitter.
However, the Mejia deal makes sense since the Guardians have a plethora of starting pitching.
Nick Wittgren was non-tendered as well. Wittgren was impressive in 2020 and even was mentioned as a candidate for the closer’s role along with Karinchak and Clase entering 2021, but he struggled mightily during the 2021 campaign.
There were stirrings about a potential trade of Jose Ramirez prior to the MLB lockout. But it seems as if the Guardians will opt to keep their star third baseman and will address the situation at the trade deadline.
If the Guardians find themselves in contention, they may opt to buy at the deadline and build around Ramirez. Otherwise, J-Ram might become the most sought after trade target in July.
But he remains in Cleveland for now.
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Cleveland Guardians Head Coach Analysis
There were plenty of questions heading into the offseason about the future of manager Terry Francona. “Tito” is one of the best baseball minds in the game right now, but his health forced him to step down from the position mid-way through 2021.
However, he does plan on returning in 2022.
He is currently recovering from a staph infection in his toe. But it looks as if he will be ready to be with the team in Spring Training.
Francona reportedly told Guardians President of Baseball Operations Chris Antonetti that if the team wanted to move on that he would understand. But naturally, Antonetti wanted him back. After all, Cleveland owns an impressive 753-601 record with Francoa at the helm.
Cleveland Guardians Injured Players at the beginning of the season
Staying healthy will be of the utmost importance for the Guardians in 2022 following an injury-plagued campaign in 2021.
But some of those injuries are still affecting certain players.
Josh Naylor suffered a gruesome ankle and leg injury following a nasty collision in right field which ended his 2021 season. Naylor received surgery back in July and may be ready in time for the start of the 2022 campaign. Cleveland is hopeful that he will at least be ready for rehab by that time and could start the season in the minor leagues if necessary.
Relief pitcher Nick Sandlin dealt with a shoulder injury last year. While he is expected to be fine for Spring Training, elbow and shoulder injuries for young pitchers are always concerning. Sandlin pitched well in his rookie year with Cleveland and will look to pitch even better in 2022.
The health of Bieber, Plesac, and Civale will be worth taking note of. As of now, all three are expected to be ready to roll for Spring Training. Their health will be key to the success of the 2022 Guardians.
Cleveland Guardians Prediction for the 2022 Season
The Cleveland Guardians still have a case for staking a claim as the second-best AL Central team. The Detroit Tigers have been busy during the offseason and they are slowly closing in on Cleveland. But both teams are far behind the talented Chicago White Sox.
The Guardians might be able to make a Wild Card run in 2022. But they need to find outfield help once the MLB lockout comes to an end. Right now, they would have to rely on three main hitters and their pitching staff to carry them all season long.
Successful teams need depth, and Cleveland features very little depth from an offensive perspective.
One thing that is for sure is the Guardians could end up having the best starting rotation in baseball in 2022. We have discussed Bieber, Plesac, and Civale. But Cal Quantrill and Triston McKenzie both displayed signs of dominance last year.
Quantrill broke out in a major way in 2021. The young right-hander posted an 8-3 record with a 2.89 ERA and 121 strikeouts.
The Guardians were not sure if they were going to implement him in a starting or relief role, but Quantrill answered that question for them. He seems to have ace potential, but will likely be the number four or five pitcher in this deep rotation.
McKenzie was a model of untapped potential last season. The surface-level numbers do not look good. McKenzie ended 2021 with an ugly 4.95 ERA.
But he went through phases where he looked like an all-star.
McKenzie entered an August 5th start against Toronto with a 6.11 ERA and was looking like a complete bust. However, he went out and shut down the Blue Jays on August 5th by surrendering just 3 runs over 7 innings.
He went on to allow more than three runs just once over the remainder of the season and lowered his season ERA to 4.95 in the process.
So this pitching staff could genuinely carry Cleveland to the playoffs in 2022.
I would say their ceiling is second place in the division and a postseason Wild Card spot. But their floor is fourth place in the AL Central. If the pitching fails to hold up and both Detroit and the Kansas City Royals improve, that could be a recipe for disaster for the Guardians. Check their MLB Odds for this season.
Cleveland Guardian’s Final Thoughts
Although they certainly are not as good as the 2016-2018 Indians that made three consecutive postseasons including a World Series appearance, this team might be able to surprise people.
It all starts with the pitching but ends with the hitting. If they can add just two or three quality bats to the lineup that could completely change their dynamic. But for now, they are a fringe Wild Card contender. Check out their MLB Lines for the season.