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All-Star Cleveland Guardians are halfway through an unexpectedly 'magical' season

Cleveland Guardians' Tyler Freeman, right, celebrates with teammate David Fry (6) in front of Chicago White Sox catcher Korey Lee, left.
Sue Ogrocki
The Guardians surprise All-Star David Fry (6) congratulates teammate Tyler Freeman after his home run against the White Sox. Fry is one of three Guardians to make his first All-Star team.

The Guardians are at the halfway point of an unexpectedly stellar season. They’re on top of the American League Central Division, sending five players to next week’s All-Star game, and have the top pick in Sunday’s Major League Baseball draft.

Ideastream Public Media’s sports commentator Terry Pluto put the surprise season into context, saying their 2023 record of 76-86 was the worst finish in Terry Francona's 11 seasons before his retirement.

“So, they bring in Steven Vogt, who two years ago was catching for the Oakland A's and last year was a bullpen coach in Seattle," Pluto said. "He takes over for the future Hall of Fame manager. What people predicted of them, most of them figured maybe something like 84-78 or .500, a record 81-81. Right now, if you factor it out, they would be on their way to 103 wins."

The Guardians lead the American League with five All-Stars. Third baseman José Ramírez and outfielder Steven Kwan, MLB’s leading hitter, were voted in by fans. Closer Emmanuel Clase, first baseman Josh Naylor and utilityman David Fry were named reserves for the July 16 game in Arlington, Texas.

Pluto said the selection of Fry was a surprise.

“He was a guy they had picked up from Milwaukee, a player to be named later, in a trade,” Pluto said.

Clase leads the American League in saves with 27 with a 0.65 earned run average in 42 appearances. Naylor has hit a career high in home runs with 21 through 83 games. Fry is batting .305 with 8 home runs, 33 RBIs, a .508 slugging percentage and a .920 OPS.

“I mean, this is a team that could hardly score any runs (last season), to now they’ve been in the top five in baseball scoring runs this year without making any real big additions,” Pluto said.

Meanwhile, the fans have been flocking to Progressive Field. The Guardians have sold out nine games so far this season, and attendance is up 20% over this time last year.

“They're now on their way to selling out more than 13 games,” Pluto said. “The reason I mention that is that was 2017, they sold out 13 games and that was the year after they had gone to the World Series. So, the fans grabbed onto this.”

Pluto said what really propelled the team was getting off to a fast start.

“They opened the season by going 8-2, which is really critical for a young manager to, you know, kind of get the confidence of the team," Pluto said. "But it caught the fans’ attention and they just kept winning and winning and winning."

The Guardians also have the No. 1 overall pick in Sunday’s Major League Baseball draft. The team won the draft lottery last December with a just 2% chance of landing the top pick.

“This is a chance for them to figure out, ‘All right, I could pick any player in the country that's eligible for the draft. That's any college player, any high school player, any player. Also, in Puerto Rico,'" Pluto said. "This could be a franchise-changing pick."

Pluto’s pick is Georgia outfielder/third baseman Charlie Condon. Others in consideration for the top pick include Oregon State second baseman Travis Bazzana and West Virginia middle infielder JJ Wetherholt.

Meanwhile, one area where the team has struggled is starting pitching. Shane Bieber is out for the season after having Tommy John (elbow ligament) surgery in April. Gavin Williams returned last week from an injury suffered in spring training. Logan Allen and Triston McKenzie were just sent to the minor leagues in Columbus.

Pluto said the bullpen has been the key to the Guardians working around those struggles.

“In fact, if you could take like one unit and name it to the All-Star team, it would be Cleveland's bullpen, which is by far the best in baseball,” Pluto said.

However, Pluto said the starting rotation must come together.

“When we talk about Logan Allen and (Triston) McKenzie both being in the minors and Gavin Williams coming back from this sore arm, they got to get two out of those three guys pitching well to maybe get a chance to go to the World Series,” Pluto said.

Trading for a pitcher ahead of the July 30 trade deadline is going to be a challenge.

“The 60-day injured list, which means you're out for a minimum of two months, if not more, the average American League team had four pitchers on that list,” Pluto said.

As for the second half of the season, Pluto tells fans to enjoy it.

“This has been just such an unlikely year and unlikely heroes sometimes, you know, the baseball gods do smile down upon you, at least for a while," Pluto said. "It’s just been kind of a magical season so far."

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