The Guardians are 45-45, so what goals should they set for the next 72 games? Let’s get right to it.
1. Handle their divisional foes.
The Guardians have 26 division games left, seven against the Tigers, seven against the White Sox, six against the Royals, and six against the Twins. If the Guardians can go even 17-9 in those games, I think they’ll have a great shot of winning the division. Going .500 in the rest of their games would put them at 85 wins, which is probably going to be enough to win the Central. As fans of the team, we can certainly hope for better than that, but I think this is a reasonable goal and would result in a successful second half.
2. Fix Shane Bieber
Shane Bieber’s slider and curveball have drastically decreased in run value since last season (17.2 runs above average to 1.6, and 5.6 to -2.5, respectively). He’s also throwing both pitches less often (by 5-6% each). If Bieber can find his secondary stuff, again, he’s going to have a great second half. He’s done it before, so it’s not unreasonable. Let’s hope the extended break gives him a chance to iron out some issues and come back strong.
3. Get some more swing-and-miss for Aaron Civale, Trevor Stephan, and Emmanuel Clase
Aaron Civale’s strikeout rate has declined from last year by about 1.5 strikeouts per nine innings, Trevor Stephan’s by about two per nine, and Clase’s by about 1.5 per nine. I’m not going to pretend that I can solve these issues from my keyboard but my three guesses would be getting Clase to throw his slider for strikes early in counts, Civale to be more liberal with his curveball use, and exchange some Stephan appearances for Eli Morgan, Nick Sandlin, Tim Herrin, Enyel De Los Santos, and Sam Hentges appearances to see if some extended rest helps his velocity bounce back to more 2022 levels.
The good news is that all three of these pitchers are still effective and valuable members of the staff — it’s just getting a little extra that can make the difference in some late-inning wins.
4. Figure out how to hit some more home runs
It’s probably no secret that the Guardians are last in MLB in home runs, ISO, and hard-hit and barrel rates. That’s generally not a recipe for playoff success. So, where are the Guardians going to find some extra pop?
There are a variety of potential answers:
- Positive regression for Josh Bell.
- Andrés Giménez increases his strikeout rate in order to swing harder at balls he can hit and sees his hard-hit rate and ISO climb accordingly.
- Amed Rosario is traded and Gabriel Arias emerges from his hibernation to play short or Tyler Freeman increases his 1.4 launch angle to the 10.4 launch angle he showed in his brief appearances in 2022. Alternatively, Rosario stops swinging at the increasing amount of pitches he is being thrown out of the zone and earns himself some more pitches to drive and actually does something with them, Amed needs to play primarily against left-handed pitchers, but I’m kinda done expecting that while he is here.
- The team stops starting Myles Straw every day and gives players like Will Brennan, David Fry, Gabriel Arias, Oscar Gonzalez, and maybe George Valera down the road a chance to offer whatever small increase in ISO they can from the outfield position.
- The team trades for a legitimate slugging option to plug into a corner outfield spot (also moving Myles Straw to a bench role).
This is probably the most important need for the team in the second half of 2023.
5. Make David Fry the primary backup catcher
If Cam Gallagher is here and is going to be Bieber’s personal catcher and a mentor to Bo Naylor, I am fine with that. He just can’t be catching 2-3 times a week. David Fry has shown enough to be given the afternoon starts and occasional starts against lefties that Bieber is not involved in, in my humble opinion. The gains in offense from Gallagher to Fry are enormous.
6. See Bo Naylor begin to meet his projections
Anyone watching Bo over the past couple of weeks can see his at-bats are getting longer and he’s had some multi-hit games. Anyone observing his career will notice he oftentimes has taken a minute to get adjusted to a new level. If he can continue to adequately handle the pitching staff and hit more in the 80-90 wRC+ level, that will be a tremendous boon to the Guardians’ attempts at run production.
7. Have all starting pitchers end the year healthy
I will exclude Triston McKenzie from this list, not because I don’t desperately want him to be healthy, but because it seems an unreasonable expectation to put on a man with an elbow injury. Hoping for a miracle for Dr. Sticks, but hoping for steady health for the rest of the Guardians’ rotation. It will require managing innings limits wisely for Tanner Bibee, Gavin Williams, Logan Allen, and perhaps at some point Joey Cantillo. It will require figuring out what’s exactly wrong with Cal Quantrill’s shoulder. It will mean helping Bieber and Aaron Civale avoid any past injury bugaboos.
If the Guardians can manage all that, I think I’d call the end of the season a success at some small level, no matter the final record.
8. See some significant progress from minor-league prospects
I’d love to see Chase DeLauter show value at Lake County, Angel Martinez figure out Double-A pitching, Doug Nikhazy get his walk-rate under control, Parker Messick figure High-A hitters, Brayan Rocchio find his missing power at Triple-A, Juan Brito graduate to Columbus and do the same thing there he’s been doing at every level so far, Welbyn Francisca make it to Lynchburg and flash his skills there, Joey Cantillo get his walk-rate under control, Dayan Frias, and literally anyone else continue to show some home run potential ... there’s a lot of work to be done in the minor-league system over the next two months to help us stay optimistic about the future value of the Guardians’ farm system.
9. Give Terry Francona a great ending to the season
I’m sure I’m not the only Guardians fan who was concerned when Tito missed some of the Kansas City series spending time in the hospital. With health scares in three out of four years since 2020, it’s hard not to wonder about when the Guardians’ manager will find it wise to retire.
No matter what your opinion of Francona, I’d hope we can all wish him a happy send-off whenever his retirement arrives as he has certainly been a positive influence, overall, on the franchise. There are reasons to critique his legacy (Mickey Callaway being number one on my mind), but with all his imperfections, I think it’s fair to say he has been mostly an effective leader Cleveland. His players generally love him and play hard for him.
I’m hoping they make him proud for the rest of 2023 and give him one more playoff run.