Since the All-Star Break, the Guardians have faced the White Sox, Red Sox, and Rays.
It was a crucial stretch in which every opponent was .500 or better.
And the Guardians managed a solid 6-5 result, including a series win against the excellent Tampa Bay Rays.
With the win, the Guardians kept pace in the division race and now sit just a game back of an ever-tightening AL Central.
The White Sox are just a game behind the Guardians, two behind the division-leading Twins.
The icing on the cake of the series victory over the Rays?
A 5-3 win over Rays starter (and American League All-Star starter) Shane McClanahan.
And let’s be clear.
It wasn’t Shane Bieber or Triston McKenzie on the mound for Cleveland.
It was Bryan Shaw.
And it wasn’t like the Guardians pounded the ball, either.
Instead, the Guardians played their brand of baseball, slowly chipping away at McClanahan while the pitching kept the floodgates tight.
Fans were thrilled with the strong performance:
JOSEEEEE JOSEEEE JOSEEEEEE 🚨
THE GOAT MAKES IT 3-0 GUARDIANS WITH AN RBI SINGLE #Fortheland
— 216 Baseball Podcast (@216BaseballPod) July 31, 2022
— Cleveland Guardians (@CleGuardians) July 31, 2022
Bottom of the order DOIN WORK against McClanahan! #ForTheLand
— Ross DiBello (@Rossitron5) July 31, 2022
— Cleveland Baseball Insider (@CBIonSI) July 31, 2022
— Paul Dolan’s Thoughts (@DolansThoughts) August 1, 2022
Cleveland knocked McClanahan around so much today that he dropped from 1st in MLB ERA to #4. #ForTheLand
— Jeremy 💂 (@GuardTheCLE) August 1, 2022
— Bryan Shaw (@WxShaw) July 31, 2022
Not every victory comes by way of multi-home run performances.
Sometimes, just putting the ball in play gets the job done.
And that’s precisely what this Guardians team did on Sunday.
They managed nine hits on the outing, with José Ramirez, Austin Hedges, and Myles Straw providing the run support.
And it wasn’t just Sunday.
All weekend, the Guardians kept things close, including a 4-1 win on Friday.
It’s a microcosm of how much improved the pitching has been since the All-Star Break.
The starters are doing a much better job at keeping the team in games early and not coughing up huge chunks of runs.
It’s a recipe for success that just might follow the team all the way to October.
The win over the Rays was also a strong signal to the front office that this Guardians team can win now.
Had the club slumped through this stretch and lost ground in the playoff race, it might be a sign that Cleveland should sit back at the deadline.
But the win reinforced the idea that this team is just a few pieces away from making a run.
It’s going to be tough keeping up with the Yankees, Rays, Astros, and Mariners.
But the team can still make additions that keep them in the race this season.
Most of those clubs figure to be in the race for big-name stars like Juan Soto and Wilson Contreras.
But there is a bevy of under-the-radar candidates that could improve Cleveland where it needs the most help.
The team is already rumored to have an interest in Athletics catcher Sean Murphy.
Murphy won’t come cheap, but sacrificing some farm talent might be necessary.
Throw in Reds pitcher Tyler Mahle, as well.
He would be an excellent third option behind Bieber and McKenzie; precisely the starting punch this roster lacks.
The Guardians are close.
But how much closer do they want to get?