The Guardians made a name for themselves with the surprise of the 2022 season

CLEVELAND (AP) – Guards have made a name for themselves this season – from outcasts to October contenders.

With questions strewn across the roster after spring training, they shouldn’t have won the AL Central in a run. They weren’t picked to sweep Tampa Bay in the wild card round. They definitely weren’t expected to push the New York Yankees to the limit before running out of rallies.

But baseball’s youngest team — 17 players making their major league debuts in 2022 — grew up much faster than anyone expected, and in doing so, the Guardians reconnected with a Cleveland fan base that still wears Indians gear.

“We can definitely build from this,” rookie outfielder Steven Kwan said Tuesday night in the darkened clubhouse inside Yankee Stadium, still rumbling from the home team’s 5-1 victory to advance to the AL Championship Series.

“It’s really fresh right now, but I’m sure after a few days we’ll be able to reflect, learn some things from the situations we’ve been in and hopefully move on from there.”

The foundations have been laid. The future is bright for a franchise that hasn’t won a World Series in 74 years.

No one, and that includes some within the organization, envisioned the Guardians putting together this season. But embracing their youth and not using it as an excuse, manager Terry Francona’s team defied the odds and recovered from a few mistakes and a timely hit or two to be one of the last four teams standing.

“This is the most special group I’ve ever been a part of,” said catcher Austin Hedges, one of the team’s emotional leaders and lone undrafted free agent. “This is a year I will never forget.”

It started with All-Star third baseman José Ramírez’s decision to sign a seven-year, $141 million deal before Day One, with the team’s deal shifting focus away from Cleveland’s contentious name change and a quiet offseason.

Ramírez’s dedication set the tone off the field, and he led the way on it (29 homers, 126 RBIs, defensive excellence) with a season worthy of MVP consideration if not for the brilliance of Aaron Judge and Shohei Ohtani.

Kwan has emerged as one of the best leadoff hitters in the game while embodying the team’s offensive ethos: shot over shot.

Cleveland made up for the lack of big bats by focusing on making pitchers work, hitting for contact and putting the ball in play. Derided by some fans in this swing-for-the-fence era, the style has worked for the Guardians and helped them pull off late-inning comebacks that have become routine.

The Guardians had a 29-game MLB winning streak and 40 comeback wins in their last outing.

It was a two-hitter that led to their shocking Game 3 ALDS comeback victory over the Yankees, who were 167-0 in their storied postseason history while leading by multiple runs into the ninth inning.

There was no such winner-take-all Game 5 magic (Cleveland has lost eight straight since 1997), and when the Yankees posted No. 27, second baseman Gleyber Torres taunted the Guardians by pretending to rock a baby the way Josh Naylor did in Cleveland during his home run celebration the day before.

The Yankees put Cleveland to sleep. The baby may soon be too big for the cradle.

“Our plan was to shock the world with the whole thing,” Hedges said. “We wanted to win the World Series. That’s a good Yankees team. But the cool thing is now we have a bunch of guys with a ton of playoff experience in the most hostile environment you can imagine.

“Watch out for the guards next year.”


Francona, 63, is not under contract for next season, but there have been talks and all signs point to him returning for an 11th season in Cleveland.

Although he won two World Series, this was one of Francona’s best managerial jobs as he and his staff got the most out of a team that lacked experience. Francona has also been in better shape physically after his two previous seasons were cut short by health issues.


While the “small ball” made for an entertaining story, it didn’t sting the Yankees.

Cleveland outshot New York (44-28) but was outscored by the AL East champion (9-3) in the five-game series.

The guards lack a proven cleanup hitter, a void created when Franmil Reyes struggled and was traded. Postseason hero and SpongeBob SquarePants fan Oscar Gonzalez has shown the potential to put up the numbers, but the best way to get Cleveland in the game might be a trade or free agency.

The bottom line is that Guardians can’t count on singles, steals and crowds. After scoring just 17 runs in seven postseason games, they need someone who can change the scoreboard with one swing.


Cleveland’s financial shortfalls ($68 million compared to New York’s $274 million) are expected to get a boost with the arrival of minority owner David Blitzer.

Blitzer, also part owner of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and the NHL’s New Jersey Devils, will give the club more resources to better compete in the free agent market, a place Cleveland has rarely visited in recent years.

The Guardians may still not be courting high-end players, but they should be able to counter more strongly with those second-tier free agents out of reach in the past.


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