It’s been a so-so season thus far for the Cleveland Guardians.
After a nice start, the team remains solidly in third place in the AL Central, behind Minnesota and Chicago.
And things didn’t improve on Sunday when the team dropped a game to the Detroit Tigers 4-2.
It should also be noted that the Tigers, well, stink.
The team has now lost three of its last four, including two games to historically bad Cincinnati Reds.
The offense, once a staple of this team, has been silent of late.
The pitching, on the other hand, hasn’t been awful, but the lack of anything from the plate is squandering otherwise solid performances.
Franmil Reyes, who looked to have emerged from an early slump, is back to his old ways, putting up straight zeros across four at-bats Sunday.
At the same time, this team has amazed fans in fits and spurts, including an incredible ninth inning (and then extra inning) comeback thanks to a Josh Naylor grand slam.
But to consistently find success, the team needs both the offense and pitching in sync.
So far, it hasn’t been.
Despite that, here are three Guardians players deserving of some love so far into the 2022 season:
1. José Ramirez
You had to know this was coming.
Ramirez is an obvious addition to this list.
For most of the season, his name has been in the discussion for AL MVP (he currently has the sixth-best odds, per FanDuel).
May hasn’t been quite as kind as April to Ramirez, who batted .342 to open the season before cooling off lately.
He’s tied with Mets slugger Pete Alonso for RBIs at 37 and tied for 12th on homers with nine (for reference, last year’s MVPs Bryce Harper and Shohei Ohtani are also at nine long balls on the season).
And even his average, which, as mentioned has cooled off, is still good enough for top-35.
Ramirez’s bat is vital for anything the Guardians want to do offensively, and for the early part of this season, he’s been a major bright spot.
2. Shane Bieber
The Guardians’ pitching hasn’t been terrible.
But it also hasn’t been spectacular, either.
It’s been just…plain…average.
Except for Shane Bieber, that is.
On Sunday, Bieber had yet another strong outing.
He struck out 10 batters and only gave up two runs.
In some ways, Bieber is a microcosm of the entire team’s pitching.
He got out to a rough start–last month, Bieber was on the hook for a 4.83 ERA.
Shane Bieber, Wicked 85mph Slider. 🤢 pic.twitter.com/zAN1Nml4Ri
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 22, 2022
But those April showers seem to have brought May flowers for Bieber, who calmed that number down to a strong 2.13.
And Sunday’s 10 Ks were quite a few, but not by Bieber’s standards this season.
So far, he’s averaging 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings.
Unfortunately, the lack of much offense lately has meant Bieber’s win/loss numbers haven’t told the full story.
If Bieber can continue this form into the summer, his numbers will be back to where fans (and he himself) have grown accustomed.
3. Josh Naylor
While maybe Naylor hasn’t had an incredible season so far, he did provide one of the greatest nights of baseball for Cleveland fans earlier this season.
Through 21 games this season, Naylor has slashed a .351/.649/1.044.
Trading Mike Clevinger for Cal Quantrill was a good deal for Cleveland. Add in a solid defensive catcher like Austin Hedges and it becomes better. Add in Owen Miller and Josh Naylor and it becomes mind-blowing.
And we don’t even know what Arias and Cantillo can become.
— Al Pawlowski (@AlPawlowski) May 23, 2022
It’s an excellent showing, but again, a small-ish sample size.
Naylor is certainly capable of extending that run into the summer, and he should be provided ample opportunity.
His swagger and bluster are precisely what the Guardians need right now, a time when hope, like gas, will come at a premium.
But if anyone hasn’t given up on this team, it’s Naylor, whose ninth and eleventh inning fireworks display against the White Sox should be long remembered.
For that alone, Naylor deserves a spot here.