Image: USA Today
We have completed the first month of the 2022 season, and the Cleveland Guardians have experienced both the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, with a lot of debuts sprinkled in as well. Here’s a look at some of the storylines heading into month number two of the season.
Good Start Out of the Gate
After dropping the first two games of the season to the Kansas City Royals, the Guardians got on a roll by going 7-3 over the 10 games that followed thanks to sweeps of the Cincinnati Reds and the Chicago White Sox. In fact, for a team who’s biggest concern heading into the season was scoring runs, they led MLB in runs per game at one point thanks to scoring at least six runs in six of their first seven wins of the season, including 10 or more four times. They even scored 17 runs against the Royals on April 10. After their three-game sweep of the reigning AL Central champion White Sox, the Guardians sat first in the division with a 7-5 record, one game ahead of the Minnesota Twins. They hit three grand slams as a team during that 10-game stretch, with Jose Ramirez hitting two of them. His incredible stretch during that span earned him AL Player of the Week honors for the second week of the season.
Tough End To The Month
The Guardians were riding high going into a three-game series with the New York Yankees in the Bronx. The Yankees stumbled out of the gate, so it was a good chance for the Guardians to get take advantage of the Yanks. After a tough 4-1 loss on April 22, the Guardians had a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the ninth in their Saturday matinee with the Yankees. Emmanuel Clase looked to close the deal, but a fly ball by Isiah Kiner-Falefa caused Steven Kwan to chase it down and he slammed hard into the wall, allowing a run to score to tie the game at four. Kwan was shaken up after the play, which later caused things to go viral. Yankee fans were apparently cheering when Kwan was hurt, some words were after the walkoff win by the Yankees to Myles Straw and Oscar Mercado and Straw climbed on the wall and gave some words to the Yankee fans. Straw was praised by Manager Terry Francona, who said Straw was “sticking up for his teammates.”
Yankee fans threw cans and bottles at Straw and Mercado after the game. They had to be separated by security and their teammates as Yankee players including Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton raced to get the Yankees fans to stop throwing onto the field. Many people, including the Yankees radio and broadcast teams, were appalled by the actions of the fans, with longtime Yankees radio announcer John Sterling calling the ones who threw bottles and cans, “hooligans.” Straw went a little further after the game, apparently calling the Yankees fans the “worst fanbase on the planet.”
It seemed like after that whole incident, with everyone sticking up for each other, this would be the start of a new, motivated Guardians team. However, the opposite happened. They were destroyed the next day 10-2 by the Yankees and suffered a three-game sweep in the Bronx. Next up on the docket: a series out west against the Los Angeles Angels.
To sum up the series with the Angels: Taylor Ward and Mike Trout. Ward was 7-14 with three home runs, a double, and nine RBI during the four-game series, while Trout was 5-12 with a home run, a triple, three doubles, and five RBI. They had their way with the Guardians throughout the series and the Guardians could not score many runs as they managed just seven in the four games, with five of them coming in a 9-5 loss on April 27. With a 4-1 loss on April 28, it made it seven straight losses for the Guardians, and they fell to 7-12 in their first 19. The Guardians were able to finish the month off with two straight wins over the Oakland A’s thanks to multiple three-run comebacks on Friday and a good pitching performance for a 3-1 victory on Saturday to finish the month 9-12.
Many, Many Debuts
It’s no secret among the organization and the people that cover them that this year is all about seeing which players are good enough for the future of this team and getting a good look at some of the young talent waiting in a good farm system for the Guardians. What no one expected, was just how many we would be seeing and this early. In the month of April alone, that’s 21 games, the Guardians had seven prospects make their major league debuts over the course of the season so far. The seven were Steven Kwan, Bryan Lavastida, Kirk McCarty, Konnor Pilkington, Gabriel Arias, Tanner Tully and Richie Palacios. Kwan has obviously had the most success as he had a very hot start to the season, seeing him bat 9-13 in his first four games against the Royals, including going 5-5 in their 17-3 win over the Royals in their third game of the season. Gabriel Arias (GBI’s 5th ranked prospect in the Guardians system) made his debut due to three members being placed on the COVID list before the Chicago series and making his debut in the doubleheader with the Sox. He got his first major league hit and RBI during the two games. The last was Richie Palacios, who is someone that battled back from shoulder surgery in 2019. After a strong 2021 season, Palacios was called up during the Angels series and went 2-3 in his first major league game, with his parents in the stands. With the roster being shrunk to 26 in a few weeks, the rate of debuts will slow down for a bit but expect someone else to make their major league debut sometime this season whether it be a long-time prospect like Nolan Jones, when he gets healthy.
The Starting Pitching
For all the talks of the hitters struggling, and they have as they managed just 14 runs in their seven-game losing streak, there has also been some concern for the starting pitching at times. While Shane Bieber is doing very well from a stats standpoint, he’s 1-1 with a 2.82 ERA and his off-speed pitches are still clicking, there has been a notable decline in his velocity. Bieber has never had a high-octane fastball. His average career velocity was 94.1 during his Cy Young year in 2020, his average velocity is barely touching 90 at just 90.7 miles per hour on average. It’s been noticeable, but considering hitters are only batting .179 against it, maybe there’s no need for panic right now.
One pitcher who has really struggled out of the gate has been Aaron Civale. Civale has started four games this season and is currently 0-2, with an abysmal 10.67 ERA and just 14 strikeouts in 14.1 innings pitched. He has allowed 22 hits on the season and his longest outing of the season so far has been four innings. Civale will get better and get back to form but his struggle to start the year has made a lot of fans call for Eli Morgan to get some more time in the rotation.
Guardians of the Month
Jose Ramirez: The face of the franchise played like just that in April. Not only that, he is shredding. Ramirez is leading MLB in RBI by seven with a staggering 28. 14 of them came during a four-game stretch where they scored 44 runs over four games against the Royals and Reds. He’s had so many RBI this month, that he was seven off of the record set by Juan Gonzalez in 1998. He is tied for second in MLB with seven home runs, two behind league leader Anthony Rizzo. While batting .342 and an OPS of 1.133, he has been worth every penny of his $141 million contract.
Trevor Stephan: You really can’t do better than giving up zero runs in a month. Trevor Stephan has done exactly that. The second-year reliever man has quickly become the club’s most reliable reliever as in 10 innings in nine games this season with 10 strikeouts, paired with an outstanding 0.40 WHIP. The bullpen was a question mark going into the season, but Stephan has not been a concern at all. Through one month of the season, he’s been the best pitcher out there.
Andres Gimenez: Before the season, I picked Gimenez as my breakout hitter for the 2022 season along with Steven Kwan. Throughout the last week of the month, Gimenez has been one of the more consistent hitters in the lineup. In the final three games of the month, Gimenez is 6-12 with a grand slam and five RBI. He is currently batting .340 on the season and is getting more and more starts at shortstop as the month went on. He has nine hits over his last seven games and if he continues his good play, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be a full-time member of the lineup.
Franmil Reyes: To say Reyes has struggled this month would be putting it lightly. In fact, over his last 24 at-bats of the month, Reyes went 0-24 with 16 strikeouts, eight of those came consecutively. He has just one hit over his last seven games and is currently batting .135 in 74 plate appearances. Reyes has always struck out a lot, as his strikeout percentage last year was 32% percent, but he hit 34 home runs and drove in 85 runs while batting .255. This year, he already has 35 strikeouts and has only drawn three walks. To be the clean-up man for the Guardians, Reyes needs to find a way out of this slow start.
Aaron Civale: Reasoning earlier in article.
Look into May
The Guardians will hope to the Oakland Athletics to start off the month, before returning home for a six-game homestand with the San Diego Padres and the Toronto Blue Jays.