top of page

Needing to Nay--lor Down the Offense



The massively struggling offense continues to be the main headline for the 2023 Cleveland Guardians a month and a half into the season.


Currently the team ranks last or near the bottom of every single offensive category across the board in Major League Baseball.


Free agent acquisition Josh Bell has been a major disappointment through the first 40 games with just 3 homers and 19 RBI in 143 at bats.


Andres Gimenez seems to be overswinging, putting too much pressure on himself after signing a $100 plus million contract extension. He's off to a miserable start with 3 homers and 9 RBI batting a meager .234 through May 16th.


Catcher Mike Zunino, however, has been a colossal bust at the plate after a fast start in early April. He's hitless in his past 25 at-bats striking out a mind boggling 19 times.


Not to mention his defense has been dreadful behind the plate as he's struggled to catch the ball or throw runners out as his long layoff from last year's injury is clearly evident.


So what is the key to turning the offense around? This past weekend may hold the answer....


The Josh Naylor Game

A year ago, the offense was struggling to get going similar to this season. On May 9th, against the White Sox in Chicago, the Guardians were trailing 8-2 heading into the 9th. Victory for the Sox seemed like a foregone conclusion. Then in a blink of an eye, the "Guardiac Kids" were born.


Leading off the inning, Andres Gimenez homered followed by Amed Rosario's single and a throwing error allowing him to advance to 3rd.


After another careless error by the Sox, two quick outs were recorded to restore order. Or so we thought. Next Ramirez walked to bring in closer Liam Hendricks.


He proceeded to give up a single to Owen Miller loading the bases. Up stepped Josh Naylor with the score 8-4 and before you could catch your breath he walloped a fast ball to right center field tying the game at 8-8!


After the White Sox loaded the bases in the bottom of the 9th but failed to score, the Guardians got one run across in the top of the 10th. However, the White Sox came right back to tie the game in the bottom of the inning putting the score at 9-9.


With two on and one out in the 11th Josh Naylor came up to the plate having driven in 5 runs in his previous 2 at-bats.


This time he waited until the second pitch from reliever Ryan Burr to crush a ball into the right field bleachers for a 3-run game-winning homer propelling Cleveland to an amazing 12-9, 11 inning win in Chicago!


Naylor became the first player in baseball history to drive in 8 or more runs from the 8th inning on in a game.



Captain Clutch


Fast forward to June 29th at home against the division leading Minnesota Twins. Heading into extra innings, the game was tied at 3 apiece. All hope seemed lost after the Twins took a commanding 6-3 lead going into the bottom of the 10th.


However, the Guardians fought back with a run off of Rosario's double with one out. Then with two outs and two men on, a wild pitch was thrown, scoring another run putting the tying run on third.


With Josh Naylor at the plate down to his final strike, he blasted an opposite field game-winning homer just over the left field wall lifting Cleveland to another improbable 7-6 extra inning win!


Then came this past weekend against the Los Angeles Angels. Naylor became the first player in the modern era of Major League Baseball to homer in the 8th inning (or later) three straight games to give his team the lead.


With the game tied 4-4 Friday night, he hit a solo homer that should have given the Guardians the win if not for Clase's blown save in the 9th.


Saturday night Cleveland was down 6-2 with one out and nobody on base staring at another frustrating loss.


That's when the Guardians offense came to life with 4 straight wins by Kwan, Rosario, Ramirez, and Bell.


In came reliever Ryan Tepera to face Josh Naylor. On his second pitch, Josh belted a 3-run homer to turn a 6-4 deficit into a 7-6 lead! Gimenez would homer to add an insurance run in a stunning 6-run 8th inning that held up for a 8-6 win.


Sunday featured a pitching duel between former high school teammates Patrick Sandoval and Tanner Bibee. Cleveland held a slim 1-0 lead into the 8th but the Angels managed to get a run across to tie the score 1-1.


Sandoval started the bottom of the 8th putting two men on with two outs after intentionally walking Ramirez. Angels reliever Estevez immediately committed a pitch clock violation and fell into a 2-0 hole against Josh Naylor.


Naylor made him pay for it, crushing the next pitch against the teeth of the wind over the right field wall for another 3-run homer. It held up in a tight 4-3 victory and series win over the Angels.


By Josh


In his first 115 at-bats Naylor hit just .191 with 3 homers. Just this weekend alone he complied 3 homers, 5 hits, and 7 RBI igniting a slumbering offense. Since 2021, he has hit 8 game winning homers from the 8th inning on for the Guardians, the most of any player in baseball.


With Bell struggling to prove himself after signing at a free agent, Gimenez's slow start, the black hole that is right field between Gonzalez and Brennan's at-bats, Rosario's usual terrible April and inconsistent production at the plate---Cleveland is in desperate need of Naylor to carry the offense at this point in the season.


In his young career, Naylor's best month by far is the month of May in which he's hit 12 homers and 44 RBI in 216 at-bats. It's a small sample size for sure, but worth noting, as the Guardians seem to be sleepwalking through the first month and a half of the season.


In order for Jose Ramirez to get a better selection, he needs protection in the lineup. A slugging, dangerous Josh Naylor in the cleanup spot might just be the answer to his early struggles driving the ball over the fence.



Dropping the Mike


As mentioned previously, the signing of catcher Mike Zunino has been a disaster so far. He's hitless in the month of May and costing the team countless runs behind the plate with his horrid defense blocking balls and throwing out runners on the base paths.


Backup catcher Cam Gallagher has played better behind the plate defensively but has been dismal at the plate batting .051 with just 2 hits all season long!


While former Guardians catcher Austin Hedges was awful at the plate in his time with the team, his defensive and game calling skills are sorely missing this season.


It's only a matter of time now until arguably the most anticipated call up of the season occurs---catcher Bo Naylor.


Indeed Bo Naylor is the younger brother of Josh and a highly ranked prospect for the Guardians.


So far this season for the Columbus Clippers, Bo is batting .263 with 9 homers, 28 runs, and 32 RBI in 38 games. Offensively he is above average at the dish, projecting to hit 20-25 homers while driving in 70-80 RBI in his prime.


Naylor even has some speed which is rare for the catching position stealing 20 bases last season, reaching the 20-20 (20 homers/20 steals) mark.


His defense (framing pitches and throwing out runners) is still a work in progress according to multiple reports from what I've heard; which is one reason he's still in the minors.


He got a "cup of coffee" with the Guardians at the end of the season making 8 plate appearances but failing to record his first hit. Bo even was on the postseason roster but only as an emergency backup failing to make an appearance in the playoffs.


So why do I mention of all this? Because I strongly believe it's time to bring up Bo while dropping

Gallagher off the roster and putting Mike Zunino as the backup.


Since Bo is a left-handed hitter, he can be benched facing the tough left-handed starters but should get about 5 starts a week learning the ropes of being a catcher in the big league.


The Naylor Brothers


Bo and Josh would be the first brothers to play for Cleveland together since Sandy and Roberto Alomar from 1999-2000. Playing alongside his younger brother, Bo, should only motivate and inspire Josh to become a more consistent offensive force in the lineup.


Getting any offense from the catcher position has remained a huge issue for the Guardians since the the better part of the past decade. Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez both had spurts of production but never could maintain consistency or a solid health record behind the plate.


At the young age of 23, Bo looks to be the catcher of the future for the Cleveland Guardians. Is he going to be a franchise cornerstone superstar player like Adley Rutschman has been for the Baltimore Orioles? Not likely.


Yet he has the tools and potential to be a team leader who gives this offense much more length and punch at the bottom of the order.


When Will This Season Turn Around?


Despite the heroics of Josh Naylor last May, the 2022 season didn't turn around after that 12-9 extra inning victory. The team lost the next two games and six of seven. They'd finish last May with a subpar 21-24 record 6 games back of the Twins.


Nor did the walk-off homer against the Twins in late June jumpstart the team, as Cleveland would lose 7 of the next 9 games falling to 40-41 after a walk-off loss to the Kansas City Royals on July 8th.


After winning 2 straight in dramatic fashion at home against the Angels it looked like it could be the turning point in the young 2023 season. Then Cleveland got pummeled against the White Sox in Chicago 8-3 Tuesday night as Bieber suffered the worst loss of his career.


At 19-22, the 2023 Cleveland Guardians continue to struggle to string wins together at a consistent basis with an offense that has been historically awful through the first 40 plus games.


This is to state that the season's turning point might not have happened yet. The effects of this past weekend could take awhile to come into fruition.


But at season's end I'm confident one of the key factors of success or failure will be a result of the Naylor brothers.


Josh coming through in the clutch during the late innings when it matters most and Bo's emergence as the catcher of the future for Cleveland are how this team can nay-lor down their offensive woes here in 2023.


Video Highlights of the games referenced in his article:


The Naylor Game highlights of May 9th, 2022: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3swsZuGbxvw


Nayor's walk-off homer against Twins, June 29th, 2022: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90QjHMebZBQ


Naylor's 8th inning homer on Saturday: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3bEIlBYV8g


Naylor's 8th inning homer on Sunday: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ZTl2dTyPR4



Sources:

All photos courtesy of Flickr.com

Stats and data courtesy by https://www.fangraphs.com/ and baseball-reference.com





Comments


bottom of page