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How the Cleveland Guardians defied the odds to run away with the division title

The scoreboard in the outfield at Progressive Field reflects one of the Cleveland Guardians' wins this season.
Adam McCullough
/
Shutterstock
The scoreboard in the outfield at Progressive Field shows the Cleveland Guardians won - June 30, 2022.

At the start of the season, few people gave the Cleveland Guardians a chance of winning the American League Central Division – including commentator Terry Pluto. But, he says baseball’s youngest team embraced an old--school style of play that vaulted them into the postseason.

“On September 5th, they had a 68-64 record and they had just lost eight out of 10. They were tied with the Minnesota Twins for first place, and the White Sox were two games out. And the feeling was, well, this was going to be a tight race and probably going to come down to the last week. It could be a three-team race or maybe the young guys will just fade. And three weeks later, it's over. It's not just that they stayed in the race. They obliterated the other two teams,” Pluto said.

Pluto said no other team has made the playoffs with 16 different players making their major league debuts. And there are other notable achievements.

“No team has made the playoffs being the youngest team in Major League Baseball since the 1986 New York Mets. Then you go back to the 1970 Reds and the 1950 Phillies. So, in the last 72 years, basically, Cleveland's only the fourth team to do that."

And Pluto said the style of play was a huge factor.

“They steal bases; they run hard. They lead the league in infield hits. They lead the league in going from first to third on base hits. They're second to last in all of baseball in home runs. It's remarkable. It's almost like [how] a college team or a high school team would play,” Pluto said.

Pluto said the way the season played out was exactly how manager Terry Francona had envisioned.

“Francona told me this in spring training. He said, ‘When I'm playing with such a young team, I look at how they run the bases and how they run to first base. I'm going to demand that they do it.’ He called it the 'right way.' You know, put the effort in,” Pluto said.

And Pluto says at the core of that plan was its most experienced players.

“You had your two big veterans on the team, Jose Ramirez and Amed Rosario, the shortstop and third baseman. And they run hard on everything. Rosario leads the league in triples. Ramirez leads the league in doubles. And that sets the tone. When your best players are doing that, then the other guys have no excuse to drag it down the line,” Pluto said.

As for their postseason chances, Pluto said anything is possible.

“This will be the ninth time in 10 years they've had a winning record and it'll be the sixth time they went to the playoffs. So, anybody predicting what they're going to do is probably likely to underestimate how this team will play. Common sense says you get to the playoffs, you're the youngest team, you get knocked out in the first round. But common sense hasn’t applied all year,” he said.

“The one thing that has haunted them this year [is] they’ve had a couple periods when they seemed like they couldn't even get a base hit. So, that's always kind of lurking in the background, but I'm not going to spend a lot of time staring at the background on this one. The picture in front of me is so bright,” Pluto said.

Amanda Rabinowitz is the host of “All Things Considered” on Ideastream Public Media.