A ton of contact and aggressive base-running: Guardians' brand puts playoff spot in sight

The Guardians' roster has undergone a reconstruction in a relatively short period of time, and yet, it is a group of players who confidently know who they are and how they want to play the game.

And it all has led them to the doorstep of an unlikely divisional crown in 2022.

With the youngest roster in baseball — younger than some Triple-A clubs around the league — the Guardians have molded a cohesive group that has not only avoided a collapse during their first playoff push but excelled when it matters most.

The Guardians, with Friday's 6-3 win over the Texas Rangers, have won 14 of their past 16 games. Their magic number dropped to three, making it possible that the division title is clinched on this road trip and before the team returns home for a nine-game homestand to end the regular season.

Last week, Chicago White Sox shortstop Elvis Andrus said he knew the Guardians would eventually "crumble." This past week, the Guardians rolled into Chicago and outscored the White Sox 22-11 en route to a three-game sweep that effectively ended the American League Central Division race.

On the pitching side, Guardians player development remains arguably second to none in baseball. Shane Bieber has had an ace-like season and navigated a velocity drop to still put up peak Bieber-like performances. Triston McKenzie has matured into a top-tier starting pitcher. The bullpen has been arguably baseball's best since the All-Star break, anchored by All-Star Emmanuel Clase and bolstered by strong contributions from Trevor Stephan, James Karinchak, Sam Hentges, Eli Morgan and Nick Sandlin.

Offensively, it can be summarized in two ways: contact and base-running. The Guardians have built a lineup elite in both categories, and with it, have beaten outside expectations on a number of fronts.

The Guardians lead baseball with an 80.9 percent contact rate. The closet team to them, the Houston Astros, are at 78.6 percent. The difference between the Guardians and second place is greater than the difference between 2nd and 17th.

The Guardians have four of the top 20 AL hitters in terms of contact rate: Steven Kwan (2nd, 92.1 percent), Myles Straw (4th, 89.3), Jose Ramirez (11th, 86.6) and Amed Rosario (20th, 81.5). They're the only team with four hitters ranked in the top 20.

On the base paths, the Guardians entered Friday night first in the American League and fourth in baseball with 265 instances of runners advancing from first to third on a single, behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers (285), St. Louis Cardinals (271) and San Diego Padres (266). They're also third with 105 stolen bases.

Aggressiveness and a high level of effort on the base paths was a point of emphasis from manager Terry Francona this spring. He said from Day One that it'd be the style of baseball the Guardians would have to play in order to be successful. The players have followed through on that message.

And in those ways, the Guardians have played a more traditional style of offense, leaning on putting the ball in play and aggressive base-running more than any other team in the game today. It's become their brand, and in a few days, it'll likely secure their first AL Central title since 2018.

"I think we're alleviating a lot of pressure with the way we're playing," pitcher Shane Bieber said recently. "Amed just touched on it, we play an energetic, exciting and happy brand of baseball. We bring the same energy day in and day out. It's really just a lot of fun to be a part of when you come to the stadium and there's a specific aura that everybody expects to go out there and do their job and win. It's a lot of fun to be apart of right now."

Ryan Lewis can be reached at rlewis@thebeaconjournal.com. Read more about the Guardians at www.beaconjournal.com/sports/cleveland-guardians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.

Time: 2:35 p.m. Sunday

TV: Bally Sports Great Lakes

Pitchers: Aaron Civale (2-6, 5.29) vs. Cole Ragans (0-2, 5.40)

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: The Guardians' brand of baseball has them on verge of playoff spot