Cleveland Wins the Division

This season did not end as I expected. I did not expect the team to be miserable, but I did not expect us to win the division. There are caveats (there are always caveats). The White Sox greatly disappointed and, as of this writing, have a -21 run differential and sit a game below .500 and sit 10 games behind the Guardians. The Twins fell even farther back than Chicago. I could also point out that (as of this writing) the Guardians have a 20-23 record against .500 teams, which is the worst in the likely six American League playoff contenders. At this point, that might say far more about the Guardians division than it does about the Guardians. The Guardians also have the fewest games against a .500 or better team in baseball. Who cares?

What I do care about is that Steven Kwan is a really, really, fun player to watch. He’s Michael Brantley incarnate, except a better fielder and a better base runner and potentially a better hitter. Andres Gimenez broke out, and is having a Roberto Alomar-esque season. Here’s Roberto Alomar’s 162 game average:

Roberto Alomar
.300/.371/.443 (116 OPS+), 32 SB (80% success rate), -3 DRS

Andres Gimenez

.303/.375/.482 (146 OPS+), 19 SB (86% success rate), 12 DRS

Andres is hitting for more power than Roberto and is fielding better (Roberto’s 10 Gold Gloves are not supported by his defensive metrics). Gimenez’s 6.9 bWAR would rank as Roberto’s 3rd best season ever.

Shane Bieber’s pitching quite well, and is quietly putting together another superb season, even if his run prevention is slightly below expectations. Triston McKenzie is pitching far better than I expected, and posting a breakout season. The bullpen developed nicely behind Emmanuel Clase, and managed to pitch well enough that the team relying on its rookies has worked out incredibly well.

It’s been a special season. 16 rookies debuted, and many developed before our eyes. I am not surprised that some developed. I am surprised so many developed so quickly. I personally would rank this season as Terry Francona’s best in Cleveland; I would give him the AL Manager of the Year Award.

Several weeks ago, after a brutal stretch right before September I felt the front office had screwed up. The team proved me wrong, and proved many others wrong along the way. They outplayed basically everyone’s expectations. Not only that Mahle & Vazquez have played putridly since that article as well. Overall, the team gambled on its young players and that gamble paid off in spades.

This team does not resemble any recent Cleveland team either. The 2017 & 2018 clubs built off of the success of 2016. The 2016 club also featured several young stars (Jose Ramirez & Francisco Lindor being the best), but only Mike Clevinger actually debuted in 2016; that team took years to build. 2013 was a motley collection of youngsters (Kipnis, Brantley & ‘Los), veterans (Asdrubal, Swisher & Bourn) and baseball legends (Giambi). The ‘90s teams featured several homegrown players, but those Indians teams depended on many veterans as well. The closest team might be 2005, but even those young players were largely not rookies.

Thankfully no 2005 White Sox stood in this teams’ way. Hopefully this team can build off 2005, and hopefully we’ll avoid collapse like we did in 2008. Would it be nice if this team had Matt Olson during the offseason? Sure, but no sense complaining over spilled milk. Tito has another chance to guide a team on a magical run in October, and if this team does advance deep into the postseason, we have a chance to revenge ourselves against New York, Houston, or both.

The season started with Cleveland breaking tradition and signing Jose Ramirez to a long term deal; he is the first Cleveland baseball player with a real chance to end a Hall of Fame career in Cleveland. This has not happened since Bob Feller & Bob Lemon stuck around in the 1950s. It’s a huge win for the fans, the franchise and baseball. It may end with Cleveland breaking its Major League leading title drought. Regardless, it’s been fun, surprising and electric. I hope it continues! I cannot wait to watch how all these players surprise us for years to come, and thank you for this team for bringing this baseball joy to the city!

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