The good, the hopeful and the concerning of the Guardians' first half

July 9th, 2023

CLEVELAND -- The first half of the 2023 season is in the books.

The Guardians had a chance to enter the All-Star break with an identical record as last year, but a 4-1 loss to the Royals on Sunday at Progressive Field spoiled that opportunity. Still, the club can look back at the first 90 games with some relief, having at least reached the .500 mark this week for the first time since the end of April.

“I think we’re playing better baseball, which is always good,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said prior to the game. “I wish our record [45-45] was better. Whatever our record is, that’s what it is and that’s what you go by.”

Let’s take a look at what’s led to their recent success, what could help take them to the next level and what to keep an eye on before Cleveland begins its second half of the season on Friday in Texas.

The good
The Guardians didn’t sweep the Royals this weekend, but they took three out of four. Entering Sunday, Cleveland went 13-6 dating back to June 18, which was the best record in the American League in that span. The only teams that were better across Major League Baseball were the red-hot Braves (15-2) and Reds (14-5). And with the Twins’ loss to the Orioles on Sunday, the Guardians remained in first place in the AL Central, marking the club’s first time atop the division leaderboard at the All-Star break since 2018.

The biggest driving force behind the recent success was . Over his last 17 games, he’s hitting .394 with 10 extra-base hits and 14 RBIs. He’s the lone qualified hitter in the lineup that boasts an average above .300 and has consistently delivered for the club all season long. If he can stay hot, he certainly helps bring protection behind José Ramírez in the order.

The hopeful
It took some time to get in the big leagues and after he got here, he struggled with the adjustment. But the more he settles in, the more he’s showing why he could be a great fit on this roster.

Naylor was kept out of the lineup on Friday night against the Royals. Leading up to the game, he did some extra work with hitting coach Chris Valaika. He had just broken an 0-for-19 streak with a double the night prior and with the way he had been hitting in Triple-A Columbus this season, the Guardians knew there was much more in the tank. It was just a matter of figuring out how to get it to translate at the big league level.

After a little extra time with Valaika, Naylor saw immediate results. On Saturday, he went 3-for-4 with a double and two RBIs. And if he can find a way to have more consistent results, with Andrés Giménez showing signs of heating up, that will be a big boost for the bottom half of this lineup.

The concerning
The Guardians’ rotation is going to be difficult to balance throughout the second half of the season simply because they’ll have three young starters who will have innings limits as the season winds down.

Then, there’s , who will hear his name in plenty of trade rumors over the next few weeks. If he stays with Cleveland, he’ll have to figure out how to break the pattern of running into trouble late in his outings. Here’s a look at his numbers entering Sunday:

First time through the order: .230 average, .304 slugging, zero homers
Second time: .204 average, .327 slugging, four homers
Third time: .312 average, .584 slugging, nine homers

On Sunday, he didn’t give up a run the first time through. The second time, he gave up a solo homer. The third resulted in three runs.

“I don’t know that I’m seeing something that’s happening every game other than there’s some runs scoring,” Francona said. “You look at his stuff, it’s the same across the board. Something to think about.”

Regardless of the puzzle that’s ahead of them, Francona enjoys trying to piece it together. Historically, his clubs have fared better in the second half of seasons than the first. Maybe that’s in store again.

“I think the one thing that’s really good is where we are, we’ve kind of earned the right to come back in the second half and play really meaningful games,” Francona said. “If you show up and you’re a little bit nervous or excited, that’s a good thing. That’s something I’m grateful for.”