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The Top Six Names and Games of 2023 (Season Recap Part 2 of 2)


While the 2023 Cleveland Guardians season as a whole was disappointing and miserable at times to endure through, there were some bright spots that made the 162 game journey worthwhile for their fans.


Hope towards the future of the franchise continues to be in the starting pitching which featured 3 new promising rookie arms that emerged due to injuries. The offense largely was dismal to watch yet a few players that stood out which are worth taking note of.


A handful of games in 2023 were fun, exciting experiences to witness as well. These games featured a blowout victory and edge-of-your-seat walk-off wins making for some memorable moments this season.


In this blog post, I'll highlight the top six names of players that had the largest impact on the season and then the top six games that truly stood out in an otherwise lackluster, losing season for the Cleveland Guardians.


The Names


Jose Ramirez


The heart and soul of the franchise, Ramirez didn't put up the MVP numbers like he has in the past in 2023. While overall his stats were very solid, the lack of protection in the lineup and a month of turmoil in August made for a subpar season for Jose.


His 24 homers and 80 RBI were his lowest output in a full season in which he in a 150 or more games since 2016. His slugging percentage and OPS likewise were at their lowest since then.


Yet Ramirez did have some memorable games for the Guards this year. On June 8th, Ramirez blasted 3 homers in one game at home against the Boston Red Sox. A day later, he homered again, to tie the game against the Houston Astros (see game recap below), in the late innings, making for 4 homers hit in 2 games.


He also ended the season in the exclusive 200-200 club (200 homers, 200 steals) and overtook Larry Doby while tying Hal Trosky and Carlos Santana for 5th all-time on the Cleveland Guardians homerun list.


However the most memorable highlight of the season for Jose came on Saturday, August 5th against the Chicago White Sox at home.


Down 5-0 with a runner on 2nd, Ramirez hit a double down the right field line scoring a run. As he slid into 2nd, Tim Anderson slapped down a tag and said some "choice words" to Jose before putting up a boxing pose enticing Jose to a fight.


Ramirez quickly got up and took a jab at Anderson knocking him cold to the ground in a single blow! Both benches cleared in what was a wild brawl between the ballclubs that eventually resulted in several ejections including Jose.


The incident got national media attention and was greatly received by Cleveland fans in the days that followed in what was otherwise a mostly dull, lifeless season.

Josh Naylor


Despite missing the entire month of August, Josh had a breakout season in 2023 posting a career high of 97 RBI in only 121 games. He batted .308 which would have ranked in the top five in all of the American League if he had qualified.


His 17 homers and 31 doubles ranked 2nd on the team behind Ramirez. Naylor also managed to steal 10 bases having only 8 in his career combined leading into this season.


His absence in the lineup was truly felt in August which resulted in the Guards worst month as he is now emerging as one of the best hitters in the American League at the age of 26.


Bo Naylor


Josh's younger brother Bo was considered the top catching prospect in the organization heading into 2023. After the atrocious, failed signing of Mike Zunino, Naylor was eased into the everyday lineup in mid-June as 23 year-old rookie.


He struggled early at the plate and at times controlling the running game behind the plate. Then in the middle of August with his brother out of the lineup, Bo found his power swing and finished with an impressive last month.


Overall in just under 200 at bats, Naylor hit 11 homers and 32 RBIs in the bottom third of the lineup with 5 steals and 30 walks. His batting average rose from well below .200 to .237 by season's end.


Bo is now firmly fixed into the Guardians plans for the future behind the dish finally providing the team with some much needed power at the catcher position while showing pose and adaptability in molding his defensive skills.

Logan Allen


Injuries to Triston McKenzie and Aaron Civale, along with Zach Plesac's struggles, wrecked havoc to the starting rotation only a few weeks into the 2023 season. Fortunately the next wave of talented, promising pitching was awaiting to make an immediate impact.


The first to emerge was lefty Logan Allen---not to be confused with a lefty pitcher of the same name-- who was with the ballclub just a year earlier.


Drafted out of Florida International University in the 2nd round of the 2020 draft, Allen was considered one of the top pitching prospecting in the system when he made his debut against the Marlins in Cleveland on April 23rd.


He pitched a 6 inning gem, striking out 8 batters and allowing only 1 run on 5 hits to earn his first major league win. Although Logan struggled at times with his control and putting batters away without going deep into counts in the starts that followed, he'd go on to have an impressive rookie season.


In 24 starts, he'd post a 7-8 record with a solid 3.81 ERA, 119 strikeouts in 125.1 innings of work. His best start was against the now AL East champ Orioles in Baltimore when he posted career highs in innings (7) and strikeouts (10) in a 5-0 shutout win for the Guardians.


Tanner Bibee


Only a few days after Logan Allen made his MLB debut, right-handed prospect Tanner Bibee followed suit with a near identical impressive first start of his own.


Bibee was a fifth round pick out of Cal State Fullerton in 2021 posting incredible numbers in his first pro season in the minors in 2022 with 167 strikeouts in 132.2 innings.


Just as Allen did, he struck out 8 batters in his debut start on April 26th in Cleveland facing the Rockies. Tanner allowed just 1 run in 5.2 innings for his first major league win.


Bibee would quickly establish himself as potentially the new ace of the ballclub with an amazing rookie season that ranks as one of the greatest as a rookie pitcher in franchise history.


In 25 starts, Tanner pitched 142 innings of work striking out 141, basically averaging 1 strikeout an inning. His ERA of 2.98 and WHIP of 1.176 were outstanding as well.


He only walked 45 batters and managed to pitch 5 or more innings in all but 3 starts in 2023. His final win total of 10 should have been much higher but he (as did all the starting pitchers) received little run support.


Although Tanner wouldn't win the American League Rookie of the Year award, he should get many votes for a possible 2nd place finish.

Gavin Williams


Heading into the season, all the hype for pitching prospects was centered around Gavin Williams not Bibee or Allen. Drafted in the first round for the Guardians in 2021 from East Carolina University, Gavin was considered one of the best pitching prospects that year coming out of college.


He delivered on that promise and more with an incredible pro debut season in 2022 posting a 1.96 ERA in 115 innings with a ridiculous 149 strikeouts!


After continuing to dominant with Akron and then with Columbus to start 2023, Williams was called up to make his debut on June 23rd against the Oakland A's.


Unlike Allen and Bibee, his first start didn't result in a win and wasn't smooth sailing. In 5.2 innings Gavin allowed 4 earned runs, 3 walks, and struck out 4 batters in a no decision.


A few starts later against the Royals at home, Gavin finally earned his first major league victory by giving up 3 runs in 5.2 innings striking out batters.


His overall numbers aren't earth shattering but very solid. In 16 starts, Williams posted a 3.29 ERA with 81 strikeouts in 82 innings; averaging nearly a strikeout per inning. His 37 walks are a bit high, so he like Allen, needs to work on his control and managing his pitch count.


Overall Bibee, Allen, and Williams rookie seasons give much hope for the future of the franchise concerning the starting pitching in the years to come which has Guardians fans excited for what their unlimited potential could become.

The Games


Friday, June 9th


Starting off a big three game series at home against the defending World Series champion Houston Astros, Cleveland quickly found themselves down 4 runs after Logan Allen was roughed up for 5 runs in 6 innings of work as things looked bleak for the home team.


But the Guardians fought back scoring 3 runs in the 5th to close the gap to a single run. The score remained 5-4 Astros when Jose Ramirez, coming off a 3 homer performance the night before, blasted a solo homer to right field to tie the game in the bottom of the 7th.


The Astros then retook the lead in the 8th off of James Karinchak. In the bottom of the 9th, closer Ryan Pressley easily recorded the first two outs before walking Ramirez. Down in the count 0-2, Josh Naylor blasted an opposite field double high off the left field wall tying the game 6-6!


The Astros and Guardians both failed to score in the 10th and 11th, before the Astros took 1 run leads in the 12th and 13th in which Cleveland answered back by tying the score each time with a single run of their own!


For the third straight inning, the Astros scored a run in the 14th on a Kyle Tucker RBI single to take a 9-8 lead.


It didn't last long as Tyler Freeman roped a game tying double down the left field line and two batters later Will Brennan doubled to left field to drive in Freeman for an incredible extra inning win as a near sold out crowd of 31,787 went crazy!


In total the Guardians overcame 5 deficits over the course of the game including 4 times down to their last at bat in what was their biggest comeback game of the season.

Wednesday, June 28th


The 2023 season didn't feature many blowout wins due to the bottom of the tier offense. Yet against the Royals in Kansas City in late June the lineup erupted for a season-high 14 runs. The Guards put up 14 hits including 3 homeruns breaking the game open with 7 runs in the 6th inning.


The most noteworthy was Bo Naylor hitting his major league first homer in the 6th with a man on base. He'd get 3 hits total and reached base on a walk in what was first true breakout game in the big leagues.


Jose Ramirez also homered, doubled, and drove in 5 runs. Naylor doubled twice while Josh Bell drove in 4 runs with a double and homer.


Allen only managed to pitch into the 4th inning but the bullpen of Sandlin, Hentges, Morgan, and Herrin combined to four and third innings allowing one run in a 14-1 final score.


Tuesday, July 4th


The Independence Day holiday matchup featured the surging Atlanta Braves offense at home in a weekday 3-game series. After a 4-2 defeat in the first game, Bieber took the rubber in Game 2.


Cleveland took a 2-0 lead early in the 3rd but Braves countered with a 4-run 5th inning knocking Shane out of the game. Amed Rosario hit a solo homer to lead off the 6th to cut the deficit to a single run.


Then the Guards rallied to take the lead in the bottom of the 7th with back-to-back RBI singles by Kwan and Rosario.


Emmanuel Clase entered the ninth with a 1-run lead that was quickly erased with Ozzie Albies homering to tie the game 5-5.


Headed into the 10th inning, Santos records the first out on a fly ball that advances the runner on 2nd to 3rd.


In what was previous the biggest defensive highlight of the season, Eddie Rosario hits a shallow fly ball to Myles Straw in center field and he launches a ball into the glove of David Fry who records the tag for an amazing double play at home plate preventing the Braves from taking the lead!


Fry would then win the game for the Guardians in the bottom of the 10th with a 2-out RBI single to left field in what was a thrilling walk-off win for Cleveland and its fans!


Wednesday, August 30th


In what was a recurring theme all season long, the Guardians struggled to score runs despite a solid pitching performance by their starter. Desperately needing a victory to win the series over the first place Twins on the road, Cleveland found themselves down 2-1 in the top of the 9th inning.


A loss would have put the Guards seven games back with a month to play essentially ending their hopes for a Central division title.


Down to their last strike with Bo Naylor at the plate, closer Jhoan Duran throws a wild pitch scoring Andres Gimenez from 3rd to tie the game at 2-2!


The Twins failed to win the game in the bottom of the 9th sending the game in extra innings. In the top of the 10th, Jose Ramirez was walked after the first two batters were retired to put two runs on with 2 outs.


On a 3-0 pitch, Kole Calhoun destroyed a pitch sending it far into the center--right field seats for a 3-run homer lifting the Guardians to an improbable 5-2 win just three days after he had doubled in the winning run of another road extra inning win in Toronto!


The win perhaps set in motion the acquisitions of three pitchers from the Angels the following day giving the fans a small glimmer of hope that maybe the team had a playoff push left in them.

Took this photo after a Guardians win on July 21st


Saturday, September 2nd


In a game I was fortunate to witness in person, the Guardians jumped out to a 4-1 lead off Tampa Bay Rays in the 4th thanks to a 2-run opposite field homer by Gabriel Arias.


The lead didn't last long, though, as the Rays tied the game with one swing the bat, a 3-run homer by Christian Bethancourt in the 5th. The next inning the Rays took the lead 5-4 and held in into the bottom of the 9th.


After Will Brennan singled to lead off the inning, the next two batters were quickly disposed off by closer Fairbanks. Down to their final strike, Oscar Gonzalez managed to hit a weak ground ball to the shortstop for an infield hit.


Kwan stepped up and was right off the bat charged with a pitch clock violation putting him in the hole 0-1. It hardly made a difference as he laced an opposite field single on the next pitch to tie the game 5-5!


Unfortunately Ramirez proceeded to strike out to send the game into extra innings. Clase entered the game in the 10th and after recording the first out and with a runner now on third, Tampa Bay's Raley was thrown out at the plate by Naylor applying the tag. The play was reviewed and the call was upheld after a tense few minutes awaiting the decision.


In the 11th, the Rays took the lead on a sac fly by Brandon Lowe. Gabriel Arias led off the bottom of the inning striking out, but Myles Straw stole 3rd base during the at-bat. Bo Naylor worked a walk putting runners on the corners with one out.


Rookie Jose Tena pinch hit and quickly laced the first pitch for a single to right field once again tying the score 6-6!


With the fans all on their feet, Steven Kwan ended the game on the very next pitch lifting a shallow fly ball to center field as Jose Siri wildly threw the ball to home plate propelling the Guardians to an incredible 7-6 11--inning win over Tampa Bay!


It ended up being the last meaningful win of the season, as Cleveland would go on to lose 3 straight games including 2 straight heartbreaking games to Minnesota essentially ending their slim playoff hopes.


Wednesday, September 27th


What made this game special wasn't what happened on the field but who was managing it. In the final regular season home game of Terry Francona's career, the fans received "Thank You Tito" t-shirts and a special farewell video was shown before the game.


In the game itself, the Guardians took a 4-0 lead against the playoff contending Cincinnati Reds and Shane Bieber in perhaps his final start in Cleveland threw a commanding 6 innings striking out 7 batters surrendering just one run.


The Reds scored 2 runs in the 8th to make it a one-run lead for the Guards that was held up after Noveli Marte was thrown out trying to turn a single into a double in the 9th. Clase recorded the final out shortly after for his 43rd save of the season.


It was a welcome sendoff to give Francona one last win at home for the winningest manager in franchise history.


The fans chanted "Tito!". "Tito!", in a standing ovation forcing Terry to go out of the dugout and give a curtain call after the players blocked the entrance to the clubhouse. Everyone from the team, coaches, to the fans acknowledging him for an incredible run as manager for the ballclub in what was a truly special moment in Cleveland baseball history.


Final Thoughts


While the 2023 season was a bitterly disappointing one that saw the Cleveland Guardians finish 3rd place in the AL Central division and say goodbye to their beloved manager, the future remains bright for this franchise.


In 2024 and beyond, we've got a talented young starting pitching staff, a potential future hall of famer in Jose Ramirez secured several more years with the team--still playing in his prime, and several young stars in Kwan, the Naylor brothers, and Andres Gimenez looking to build on their promising young careers.


In the next Believeland Beat article I'll take a look back at the amazing 11-year run of the franchise under Terry Francona and his impact on the team during his time as manager. Stay tuned!

Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images


Sources:


All stats, data courtesy of www.fangraphs.com and www.baseball-reference.com

Photos unless otherwise noted courtesy of www.flickr.com

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