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Remembering how to root for a bad team

Guys, I think the Guardians might be a bad baseball team

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Cleveland Guardians Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Guardians have played almost 49 games and they are seven games below .500. They might be bad, folks.

In future articles, I will continue to analyze players and talk about what they are doing well, what they are doing poorly, and what they can do to improve their performances. But, right now, in this moment, it doesn’t seem right to talk about Nick Sandlin refining his release point, Andrés Giménez earning himself more pitches to pull, or Enyel De Los Santos making himself a high-leverage relief option. After Memorial Day, we can turn our attention to these lighter matters. Right now, I want to remind you how, in 2023, to approach rooting for a baseball team that may be bad.

I realize that many of you became Cleveland baseball fans in the 1970’s so you are very familiar with following a bad team. However, it’s never a bad idea to have a refresher course and some younger fans may have blessedly forgotten the 2010 season. So, while we are still well within the first half of a long season, let’s talk about how to be a fan when the team you love doesn’t love you back.

Pay a little more attention to the minor leagues

“Why pay attention to the prospects when they are just going to disappoint us when they get to Cleveland?” Yes, yes, I know. Thank you for that, Eeyore. Now that you’ve got that out of your system, let’s remember how fun it is to see young, talented players try to achieve their dreams.

Consider getting an MiLB subscription so you can see if Bo Naylor can iron out his passed balls and base-throwing issues, if Brayan Rocchio can start getting to his power a little more consistently and improve some of his error-tendencies at short, if Gavin Williams can throw a perfect game against overmatched Triple-A hitters, if Joey Cantillo can maintain an elevated velocity and find some additional control, if Ethan Hankins can continue a fun comeback story and make his way to Akron, if Angel Martinez can excoriate himself from a first-half offensive slump, if Juan Brito can walk in over half of his plate appearances, if Cade Smith, Michael Kelly or Tyler Thornton might be the next reliever revelation, if George Valera can get and stay healthy for more than a week, and if our beloved Spongebob himself, Oscar Gonzalez, can earn another shot at making that unique hitting profile work in the bigs.

There are still so many good, young players in the Cleveland system and goodness knows we need as many of them as possible to figure it out. Take your mind off the struggles of the major league team and watch guys trying to earn their way onto that team in hopes of making their dreams and the dream of Cleveland fans come true.

Root for progress first, then wins

“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the ONLY thing.” Yes, thank you, I know participation trophies are ruining our society and it’s been 75 years since we had a World Series title in Cleveland. I get it. Yet, here we are with a bad baseball team (possibly), so how can we make the most of it?

Instead of worrying as much about the final score, we turn our attention to rooting for players to make progress. Can José Ramírez find his missing power? Can Josh Bell raise his launch angle from his shoelaces and become a player who won’t completely tank the roster in 2024 when he opts in? Can Giménez start hitting the ball with authority? Can Josh Naylor continue a recent stretch of hitting left-handed pitching better? Can young pitchers like Logan Allen and Tanner Bibee show development and growth against major-league pitching? Can James Karinchak find a way to legally get more spin on his fastball, again? Can Shane Bieber figure out how to get more strikeouts, consistently?

Obviously, if progress is made by multiple players in one game, chances are you’ll see a win! Which would be nice. But, even if a bad baseball team is playing bad baseball as usual, seeing incremental progress, especially among important pieces for the future of the club whether on the Cleveland roster or used as trade value is important and should bring the fan of a bad baseball team a modicum of joy.

Finally, in regards to coaching ... I’m not sure how realistic it is to expect Cleveland to fire Chris Valaika and send him to the Ty Van Burkleo heap of coaches unable to help players hit major-league pitching consistently. So, we need to root for Valaika to figure it out in his first opportunity to be a major league hitting coach. We need to root for the entire organization to figure out how to get more power out of their group of young, contact-first hitters. Rather than spend our time wallowing in despair that they are incapable of figuring it out, we can look for small signs that, maybe, just maybe, they are going to make adjustments and improve.

Enjoy the idiosyncrasies of the game more

“I don’t care about anything but winning baseball games. Shut up with your loser mentality.” Ok, that’s fine. Don’t read the rest of the article. I understand.

Some days, Will Brennan is going to hit a bird with a ball off the bat. Other days, Brayan Rocchio will unexpectedly play third base for the first time in three years. Other times, Gabriel Arias will absolutely demolish a baserunner with a laser from right field (gee, would love to see that arm at shortstop, too bad, apparently, he’s incapable of playing there). And, on the rarest of occasions, Cam Gallagher will get a clutch hit and pump his fist because no one wanted to break his 2-39 streak more than the journeyman catcher did.

Look for those moments. Pay attention to the unexpected joys that make the slow slog to a disappointing finish tolerable. Baseball will provide them to the fan that is willing to look for and appreciate the beauty in them.

Start playing fantasy GM with the trade market

“The team isn’t going to trade anyone and I don’t like speculating about it.” Ok, well, this advice isn’t for you, then.

I really enjoy imagining which players the Guardians could target in trades. We know what they need — more power, specifically in right field, and probably some minor-league catching depth. I also enjoy thinking about whom the Guardians could get should they decide to trade players like Bieber and Amed Rosario.

Go searching through FanGraphs’ minor-league leaderboards for right-handed slugging. Scan prospect lists for catching prospects who are blocked or well-thought-of at lower levels in organizations looking for major league pitching or middle-infield help. Imagine big trades like swapping a top pitching prospect for a top slugging prospect, or under-the-radar deals that land entertainingly named players like the Angels’ Trey Cabbage for the boringly named Zach Plesac.

Have fun imagining and sorting and pairing (but don’t get disappointed when the Guardians don’t make a trade because they don’t want to muddy the waters. You’re a better GM than Chris Antonetti, you just know it).

Find a baseball team to crush on

“I only care about Cleveland baseball!” Definitely an understandable perspective. I get it.

Myself, if this poor play stretches on for another couple of weeks, I will find myself tuning in to watch the highlights and check the box score of a secondary team. I want to see Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani in the playoffs, so maybe it’ll be the Angels. Maybe it’ll be our small market counterparts, the Tampa Bay Rays. Maybe it’ll be rooting for the David-like Marlins and Diamondbacks to take down the Goliaths in the NL East and NL West, respectively. I have found that I can experience some joy there without feeling like I’m cheating on my one true baseball love.

Know that José Ramírez wants to win baseball games for you

“Jose needs to hit better.” Sure, and I’m confident he will.

When I’m having a bad mental health day, sometimes I just remind myself that when no one thought there was a chance of Ramírez signing an extension, he forced an extension to happen by taking at least a good $50 million discount.

Sure, in a season like this, I wonder if the Guardians are going to waste José’s prime. But, instead of worrying about something I can’t control, I should enjoy watching him hit, field, and pester his teammates. I’m sure it’s been a difficult season for him already, having lost a beloved family member and dealing with disappointing on-field results in his workplace. He still shows up and puts up good at-bats and establishes himself as one of the best players in the game.

Even if no one else seems to care about Cleveland baseball fans, sometimes, José Ramírez loves us, and I want to remember to appreciate that.

Remember: Bad baseball is still better than no baseball

“I can’t watch a full season of non-competitive baseball. There are too many games for that.” Counterpoint: baseball is awesome.

The lockout was terrible. The next one might be worse. Right now, there is baseball to watch. I’m taking my son to another game this Friday and he is going to have so much fun even if the Cardinals continue our heartbreak by hitting Shane Bieber around and ruining our plans to flip him to them for a corner outfielder at the deadline.

It’s also still early. Maybe this season becomes the story of an epic comeback and a dramatic turnaround. But, I can’t be delusional: the Guardians look like a bad baseball team and aren’t giving a lot of signs of life. There will still be many ways to enjoy this season and I hope I’ve provided some guidance for you on how to do so.

Now, to take my own advice. Physician, heal thyself!