The Cleveland Guardians came into the season looking to build on a 2022 season that saw several MLBbros make major contributions to their American League Central division crown.
Triston McKenzie has established himself as one of the best young arms in the game, while first baseman Josh Naylor became a mainstay in the heart of their lineup. The front office added free agent Josh Bell in free agency to provide more offense to a ball club that looked poised to repeat in a winnable division.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned to begin the season.
Injury Delays McKenzie Debut
The excitement surrounding Triston coming off a spectacular 2022 campaign was put on hold when he was pulled after one inning of the Guardians final Spring Training game and eventually diagnosed with a strained shoulder.
McKenzie was coming off a season where he posted a career best 2.96 ERA and 190 strikeouts to go with a 0.95 WHIP. The injury left Cleveland shorthanded and their record early on reflected it.
Triston was sidelined until June 3, when he was reinstated by Cleveland and slated to start against division rival Minnesota. McKenzie was electric in his first start back, giving up only one hit while striking out 10 in five innings. His second start didn’t go as well, as Dusty Baker’s Astros were able to scatter seven hits and five runs over the five innings he pitched.
McKenzie will need time to regain the form we saw him to close last year’s season, but his return should once again form a formidable 1-2 punch at the top of Cleveland’s rotation with former Cy Young winner Shane Bieber.
Bell and Naylor Starting to Heat Up
While the return of McKenzie was a much-needed shot in the arm to the Guardians rotation, switch hitting slugger Josh Bell finally making his presence felt in Cleveland’s lineup couldn’t have come at a better time.
Over his last seven games Josh is slashing .308/.379/.692 with three homers and six RBI for the Guardians, who are 5-2 in that span. Bell was well aware of the expectations that came with the two year, $33 million deal he signed with the notorious thrifty club this offseason, but despite the expectations placed on his personal achievements, he remained focused on winning above all.
“Obviously, it would be awesome if I were hitting .450 with 30 homers right now,” said Bell after the Guardians 5-0 victory Sunday. “But for the most part. Once you sign a contract like that and start meeting the guys in spring training and develop that camaraderie, the most important thing is winning.”
Bell hasn’t been the only Josh doing damage in Cleveland’s lineup as of late, as fellow MLBbro Josh Naylor has been on fire. Naylor is slashing .436/.476/.618 with 24 hits and 16 RBI over his last 15 games.
“When the results are there, you just ride the wave,” said Bell. “That’s what (Josh) Naylor has been doing. He’s doing the same routine every day in the batting cage, the same with Ramirez.”
Cleveland has won nine of their last 15 ballgames, and even after such a slow start the Guardians are in position to once again take over the American League Central. If they have any hopes of repeating as division champions, their fifth crown in seven years, these three bros will be central to that push.