1. The Guardians wouldn’t clinch a postseason berth
This was everyone’s thought heading into 2022. The Guardians were supposed to be in a rebuilding season, and as José Ramírez has said, they still are. Yet, somehow, this club has figured out a way to still be successful while passing the torch to the next wave of young talent.
The Guardians have become the ultimate underdog this year, clinching the AL Central title on Sunday in Texas after so many projections stated that Cleveland would struggle to finish above third place in the division. The idea was that because the Guardians hardly made any offseason moves, the young rookies the club would inevitably have to rely on would not be able to handle the transition and would fall into more ruts than high points. Instead, guys like Steven Kwan, Andrés Giménez and Oscar Gonzalez led the offense, while Emmanuel Clase held down the back end of the bullpen.
They may be MLB’s youngest team, but they certainly didn’t let that stop them.
2. Rosario would be gone by the Trade Deadline
Amed Rosario was supposed to be the piece that didn’t necessarily fit in the Guardians’ long-term plans. He was supposed to be the below-average shortstop who was blocking the young, top prospects from the organization from getting their chances at the big league level. There were thoughts early in the season that Rosario would be moved at the Trade Deadline. But as August drew nearer, it was clear that Rosario was essential for Cleveland’s success.
Rosario has been able to play a decent-enough shortstop that the negative is far from outweighing the positive of his bat. He led the offense throughout the team’s hot June, and he made it impossible for the club to part ways with him when that stretch continued through July. His results tapered off as August rolled around, but when the club needed him most during a critical stretch against the Twins and White Sox over the past two weeks, he rose to the occasion.
Leading by example is what Cleveland’s veterans have mastered this season, especially Ramírez and Rosario. The two are best friends, rarely going anywhere without the other around the ballpark. With Ramírez’s natural ability to demonstrate the proper way of playing the game each night, Rosario has started to follow in his footsteps, being a resource for young guys on the club to learn from.
3. Franmil would be essential for Cleveland to have success
Franmil Reyes entered the year with many projecting a breakout season. On April 7, Reyes opened the season in Cleveland’s cleanup spot with nothing but high hopes ahead of him. After that, he struggled to put together more than a couple games’ stretch of looking like the powerful slugger the club once knew.
Reyes hit .213 with a mere .604 OPS in 70 games with the Guardians this season. He launched just nine home runs with a whopping 104 strikeouts in 263 at-bats (a brutal 37.1 percent strikeout percentage).
So, when it got to the start of August and nothing was trending in the right direction, even after the team attempted to get him back on the right path after his stint on the injured list, it became difficult for the club to continue to put Reyes in the lineup, leading to his demotion to him being designated for assignment.
Reyes ended up being the opposite of what Cleveland needed. The team’s scrappy style of play didn’t mix with his all-or-nothing approach at the plate.
4. Karinchak won’t be as effective this season
After mid-June last year, James Karinchak wasn’t the same hurler.
A once lights-out reliever, Karinchak became a liability every time he’d toe the rubber and eventually was sent down to Triple-A Columbus at the end of August to attempt to straighten himself out. After coming back in the spring, he sustained a right back sprain that sidelined him far longer than anyone projected. It was hard to imagine that he could come back and be as dominant as he was in 2020 or even the beginning of ’21. But he was.
Karinchak permitted runs in his first two outings with the big league team in July, giving even more reason to question whether he could be a high-leverage guy for the Guardians again. But after that, he cruised through his next 23 appearances without giving up a single run and has settled in as the Guardians’ ultra-reliable setup man in a bullpen that’s been more successful than anticipated.