Young Guardians poised for postseason history?

September 20th, 2022

The Guardians might do what no team has done before.

Not only are they the youngest team in the Majors, but their average age (which has hovered around 26 since Opening Day) is younger than every Triple-A club, as well. It took until Saturday -- when third baseman José Ramírez turned 30 -- for the team to have a position player other than a catcher be over 29 years old.

When you add up the number of plate appearances by hitters who are at least 30 years old with the number of batters faced by pitchers that age, no team has had a lower total than Cleveland has this year AND made the postseason in the expansion era (since 1961).

Here’s a list of the teams who have had the fewest plate appearances plus batters faced by 30-and-over players:

1967: Kansas City Athletics (62-99): 297
1969: Oakland Athletics (88-74): 557
1978: St. Louis Cardinals (69-93): 580
1982: Minnesota Twins (60-102): 611
1971: Milwaukee Brewers (69-92): 629
2022: Cleveland Guardians (79-67): 631

None of these teams made the postseason … yet.

After Monday’s win, the Guardians entered a three-game set in Chicago with a four-game lead in the American League Central and just 15 games remaining in the regular season. Heading into 2022, there were low expectations for Cleveland. Most predicted the Guardians would rank at the bottom of the division by the end of the year, and rightfully so. There was, arguably, little reason to believe this team would be one to fear in the AL Central.

Cleveland added an unprecedented 11 prospects to its 40-man roster over the offseason. There was little wiggle room to bring in any external talent and nearly every spot on the roster was taken by a player in his 20s with little-to-no big league experience. Because of this, the Guardians weren’t taken very seriously.

“You’re either like a Yankees-type team or an us-type team where you go out there and the whole world either expects you to win or expects you to lose,” catcher Austin Hedges said. “Both of them come with burdens, but it’s fun to be an underdog and go out and surprise some teams. That’s for sure.”

Cleveland manager Terry Francona said multiple times throughout Spring Training that the team still needed to learn what its identity would be. No one, including the players, truly knew what to expect. But just a few weeks into the year, the Guardians figured out their atypical recipe for success: Playing small ball with a scrappy, old-school approach.

“I think that’s kind of like our rallying call is like nobody believed in us,” rookie left fielder Steven Kwan said. “Nobody thinks that we can do what we do. That kind of older style of baseball with, like, not striking out, singles, getting the guy over, it’s obviously kind of an older fashion game. And obviously, we believe in it.”

Kwan has been the epitome of this approach. His Major League debut came on Opening Day and he threw himself into the national spotlight, going his first 116 pitches without swinging and missing. Pair him with guys like Oscar Gonzalez, who made his debut in May, and Andrés Giménez, who had at least some big league experience prior to this season, and this Guardians lineup suddenly went from rocky in 2021 to interesting in '22.

“In reality, we're in a rebuild,” Ramírez said through team interpreter Agustin Rivero. “But it's a bit different when you have very talented players that know how to play the game and know how to play the game the right way. It's fun to see them. I know this is what we're doing, but we're going to continue doing it and as long as we keep playing our way, it's going to be fun to watch.”

Francona -- who is making a run at AL Manager of the Year honors -- has figured out how to get the best of each of his players, regardless of their age. Now, instead of this inexperience being a hurdle for the club to overcome, it’s being used to the Guardians’ advantage, as they hope their never-say-die attitude and jovial enthusiasm can continue to carry them into October.

“I just feel like we’re playing baseball the right way right now,” starting pitcher Cal Quantrill said. “You’re not gonna win every game, but I think when we play baseball this way, we’re tough to beat. You got to get through 27 outs with us and none of them come easy.”

No team this young has made the postseason, but the Guardians are confident they can be the first.

“I feel like it plays into the underdog, kind of like nobody expects anything, so let’s show them something,” Kwan said. “We can kind of just play our brand of baseball and just keep our head down and look up later.”