Cleveland Guardians’ 2023 Postseason Review

02 Oct

The 2023 baseball season was a major disappointment for the Cleveland Guardians for a couple of reasons:

1) they regressed from 2022, a season in which they won the AL Central crown, won a wild card series and took the mighty New York Yankees to the brink in the divisional round. Instead, they finished 10 games below .500 and in third place in the weakest division in baseball.

2) It marked the end of an era with the retirement of future Hall of Fame manager Terry Francona.


Here is our postseason review, position by position, of the 2023 season and a look at the promise that next season holds:


Front Office/Manager/Coaches

The club’s front office had a dismal record in free agency during the last off-season. Their 2 major acquisitions, catcher Mike Zunino and first baseman /Josh Bell, were utter failures. Zunino was a disaster at the plate and not very good defensively, to the point that he was released. Bell never supplied the power that Mike Chernoff and Chris Antonetti hoped for, and was dealt to Miami at the trade deadline. It was a disappointing finish for Francona but the hand he was dealt, between front office miscues and starting rotation injuries, was too much to overcome. Pitching coach Karl Willis did his usual great job handling the rookie replacement starters, but the bullpen was inconsistent all year long. There was regression among the hitters also, so the status of hitting coach Chris Valaika could be in doubt. Of course, with Francona retiring, the whole coaching staff could be different in 2024 with a new skipper in charge.


Starting Pitchers

Injuries caused the Guardians’ starting rotation to be in flux all season in 2023. Shane Bieber, Triston McKenzie and Cal Quantrill all missed significant time and forced the team to insert a trio of rookies into service as starters before they had expected to. Zach Plesac was a major disappointment also and was eventually farmed out. Then at the trade deadline management dealt the last man standing, Aaron Civale, to Tampa and not coincidentally the season cratered into oblivion from that point on. Of the 3 rookies, Tanner Bibee looks to have some bulldog in him and could be a future ace of the staff. Gavin Williams and southpaw Logan Allen both showed promise and will be contenders to stay in the rotation next season. The one problem with the use of the rookies is that their innings were limited, which led to the bullpen being overtaxed. Blown leads by the bullpen were a major factor in many of the club’s losses. Experiments with veterans Noah Syndergaard and Lucas Giolito also failed, with Syndergaard being DFA’d and Giolito not expected back. Hunter Gaddis and Cody Morris came up from AAA Columbus to provide emergency starts, and although they’re still young, neither raised any eyebrows. The return of McKenzie and Quantrill will bolster the rotation next year, but one major story to watch will be what is done with Bieber. With a year left on his contract, will he return or be traded to obtain a much needed power bat?



Cleveland’s bullpen, considered a strength of the team, was an enigma all year. A good example – closer Emanuel Clase led the major leagues in both saves and blown saves. He was probably overused and given proper usage next year he should return to dominant form. The rest of the bullpen was a roller coaster ride. Eighth inning reliever Trevor Stephan was given a new contract, then proceeded to be a major disappointment and one of the clubhouse leaders in surrendering leads in the late innings. Nervous Nellie James Karinchak imploded to the point where he was sent to AAA Columbus for a stretch. The same fate happened to lefty Tim Herrin. Eli Morgan’s season ranged from great outings to terrible ones, and to a lesser degree the same could be said for Enyel De Los Santos and Nick Sandlin. Michael Kelly and Daniel Norris were stopgap players thrust into action to eat up early to middle innings. There were some bright spots in the pen – southpaw Sam Hentges was lights out all year. Xzavion Curry was a Swiss Army knife, providing good long relief as well as quality spot starts. Reynaldo Lopez, a late season waiver acquisition, was a revelation. An impending free agent, the powers that be should focus on trying to bring him back. All in all, a big project of the front office and new manager will be to sort out all the arms in the pen to piece together a relief staff that once again is a strength of the club.



Until rising star Bo Naylor was called up from Columbus, this position was a disaster. Mike Zunino may have been the worst free agent signing ever. He offered nothing defensively or at the plate. Another vet, Cam Gallagher, was a bit better defensively but anemic with the bat. One player on the roster whose value is high is David Fry. Any time you have a guy who can play multiple positions, and one of those positions is behind the plate, you have to value him highly. Fry also provides some pop with the bat. Naylor is obviously the future starter here, and management will need to decide if Fry alone is enough backup (which frees up roster space for another position) or if another catcher has to be added, assuming Gallagher won’t be back.



The Guardians are solid at the corner infield positions with first baseman Josh Naylor and third sacker Jose Ramirez. Naylor is the best clutch hitter and RBI man on the team, while Ramirez, a Cleveland icon, is one of MLB’s top players. Although he went through an up and down year, second baseman Andres Giminez regained his bearings late in the season and was one of the team’s hottest hitters. He needs to carry that momentum into a big year in 2024. Tyler Freeman is a valuable and versatile piece of the roster. He can play anywhere in the infield and has an uncanny ability to provide some offensive punch when he gets his chances to play. Amed Rosario was the starting shortstop until he was dealt to the Dodgers at the deadline, and his questionable defense should mean that this position is upgraded next year, no matter who wins the job. The Guardians’ organization is loaded with top middle infield prospects, and the players who shared the spot after Rosario departed – Gabriel Arias, Bryan Rocchio and Jose Tena – all showed flashes. Arias is great with the glove and his 10 home runs in limited playing time showed that he can provide some power. Rocchio is still raw but he might be the best all around prospect of the group, while Tena made the jump from AA Akron to the big club, so that has to mean the organization is high on him. There are other top gems lurking at the lower levels, but we’ll discuss them in the “future prospects” section.



Cleveland’s starting outfield trio most of the year was Steven Kwan in left, Myles Straw in center and Will Brennan in right. Kwan and Straw are Gold Glove fielders, and Brennan is right behind them with the glove. However, there is a glaring lack of power in the Tribe’s outfield, and that has to be addressed in 2024. Oscar Gonzalez, a postseason hero in 2022, regressed terribly this year and wound up in Columbus. He was the 2023 version of Bobby Bradley, who looked like a great power hitting first base prospect and is now playing somewhere in an independent minor league. Brennan is pretty good with the bat and looks like he could get stronger and increase his power numbers, but until he actually does it might be a better plan to platoon him. Kwan is a fixture and a great leadoff hitter. One option could be to move him to centerfield and use Straw as a bench player and late inning defensive replacement. Decisions will have to be made on a couple of veterans who were picked up in-season and saw lots of playing time. Ramon Laureano would be a good addition to the bench, while left-hand hitting Kole Calhoun is more suited to being strictly a designated hitter and likely won’t be back.


Future Prospects

There are 3 potential future starting pitchers in Cleveland’s pipeline that might debut in 2024 – Daniel Espino, Tanner Burns and Joey Cantillo. Espino has regularly been rated the club’s top prospect, but injuries have derailed his progress. Burns must overcome control issues if he is to succeed. Cantillo, if and when he arrives, would be a much needed lefthand option to the rotation. The up and coming outfielder in the system who might be a power upgrade is George Valera, who will be given every opportunity to advance to the majors from Columbus next spring.  Johnathan Rodriguez is a power bat who has hit consistently at every level of the minors so far. Further down the pipeline of OF prospects are recent top draft picks Chase Delauter and Jaison Chourio. When Civale was traded, the player obtained was lefthand hitting first baseman/DH Kyle Manzardo. He seems destined to be on the 2024 roster also in some capacity. A plethora of middle infielders dot the minor league pipeline. Juan Brito, obtained from Colorado for Nolan Jones in a controversial deal, appears to be a viable major leaguer. Switch-hitting Angel Martinez is only 21 and a rising star, while Jhonkensy Noel might be the future heir apparent to Ramirez at the hot corner. Khalil Watson was obtained from Miami at the deadline and is also considered a possible future star. This year’s top draftee, Ralphy Velazquez, joins Bryan Lavastida as future catching options.


Classic Team Logo of The Day

02 Oct

Used from 1933 until 1938, this is an early logo of a major league baseball team, the Cleveland Indians. The club was mainly mediocre during these years, never finishing higher than third in the American League standings. Top Indians’ players during this era include Hal Trosky, Earl Averill, Mel Harder and Johnny Allen and featured the early years in the careers of Bob Feller, Lou Boudreau and Ken Keltner. Keltner, a top defensive third baseman, would become famous a couple years later, in 1941, when he made a pair of amazing plays at the hot corner to help end the 56 game hitting streak of Joe DiMaggio.


Classic Sports Card of The Day

02 Oct

1966 Topps baseball card of former major league pitcher Sonny Siebert, who threw for 12 seasons, half of which were for the Cleveland Indians before splitting the last 6 with 5 different clubs. Often overshadowed in the Tribe’s rotation by Sam McDowell and Luis Tiant, he consistently finished in the top 3 of American League hurlers in strikeouts and ERA, usually behind McDowell. Siebert was drafted by the NBA’s St. Louis Hawks the same year Cleveland picked him in the MLB draft. He tossed a no-hitter in 1966 against the Washington Senators. Siebert, now 86, is enjoying retirement living in St. Louis.


NFL – Throwback Thursday: Taking Liberties

28 Sep

The Los Angeles Rams tangle with the Indianapolis Colts this week in the NFL, and we decided to take some liberties with the Throwback Thursday post by featuring a game that was played at the L.A. Coliseum on September 28, 1951. That day the Rams took on an NFL club called the New York Yanks. That New York franchise has a sketchy past, and here’s how it played out. After moving from Boston, the team had 2 less than successful seasons in the Big Apple, and in 1951 was sold to a group of Dallas businessmen who moved it to Dallas. That team failed after a single season, and what was left of the franchise was awarded to a group from Baltimore. They then started the Baltimore Colts franchise.  Even though the NFL doesn’t recognize this team as the ancestors of the current Colt team, we will for the sake of being able to feature this memorable game.

It was the opening week of the ’51 season, and in an era of three yards and a cloud of dust football, it turned out to be a record-setting passing day for one Norm Van Brocklin, the Rams’ quarterback. He torched the Yanks’ secondary for 554 yards and 5 touchdowns on 27 of 41 passing, with the yardage mark a record that still stands today, 72 years later. The Rams won the game 54-14, with a dominant display on both sides of the ball. They racked up 735 yards of offense and the 54 points despite turning the ball over 5 times, three times on interceptions to go with 2 lost fumbles. The Los Angeles club, known as an offensive powerhouse in the 1950s, was relentless with their attack all day. Three of their receivers totaled over 100 yards, with Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch leading the way with 9 catches for 173 yards and 4 TDs. Another future Hall of Famer, Tom Fears, grabbed 7 passes for 162 yards, while a guy named Vitamin Smith added some pep to the attack with 2 receptions for 103 yards and a touchdown. The Rams also had a pair of rushing touchdowns on runs from Dick Hoerner and Deacon Dan Towler to round out the scoring.

The L.A. defense actually pitched a shutout in the game also, as the Yanks’ 2 touchdowns came on a 79 yard punt return by Buddy Young and a 30 yard return of a recovered fumble by Art Tait. New York only amassed 166 yards of total offense, and the 569 yard difference between the 2 teams stood as a record yardage spread until 2009, when Tom Brady and the New England Patriots crushed Tennessee 59-0 and piled up 619 more yards than the Titans. The game turned out to be very indicative of the fortunes of the clubs in the 1951 season, as the Rams would go on to defeat Cleveland for the league title, and the Yanks would win only a single game before being sold to the new Dallas owners prior to the ’52 season.


Van Brocklin’s record day memorialized



Classic Team Logo of The Day

28 Sep

Logo of a Division III college football team that plays in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference, the Washington & Jefferson Presidents. The team, which began play in 1890, is coached by Mike Sirianni, brother of Philadelphia Eagles coach Nick Sirianni. He was preceded as head coach by former Pittsburgh Steeler John Banaszak. The school has an amazing .649 winning percentage over the years, and a 5-1-1 bowl record. W & J alumni who have played pro football include Pete Henry, Dan Towler, Chet Widerguist, Ray Neal, Al Hadden, Hal Erickson, Bird Carroll and Forrest Douds.


Classic Sports Card of The Day

28 Sep

1952 Bowman football card of a former NFL running back who played 5 seasons for the Los Angeles Rams from 1949 until 1953, Vitamin Smith. Like vitamins do for your body, he provided extra energy to the Rams’ attack as a kick return specialist, and in 1950 returned 3 kicks for touchdowns, a league record that would stand until 1967. Smith served in the U.S. Army during World War II and took part in the battle of Normandy. A track star in college, he passed away in 2000 at the age of 76.


NFL – Throwback Thursday: Miami Breaks Through

21 Sep

The game we’re highlighting today on Rayonsports for the Throwback Thursday feature is an old American Football League game that took place on October 16, 1966 between the Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins, who meet on this week’s NFL schedule. 1966 was Miami’s inaugural season in the AFL, and this contest, which was played in week 6 of that year, was significant even though both clubs were league doormats. The Broncos, who never enjoyed a winning season in the 10 year history of the AFL, entered the game at 1-4 while the expansion Dolphins were winless in their first 5 games. Denver’s inept franchise represented Miami’s first real chance of breaking through into the win column, and they were ready for the challenge.

A pair of former Broncos exacted a bit of revenge in the opening quarter for the young Fish. Fullback Billy Joe, a Denver rookie in 1964, took a George Wilson Jr. pass 67 yards to paydirt, followed by a 35 yard field goal from another former Denver standout, Gene Mingo. The Broncos cut the lead to 10-7 on a 5 yard touchdown run by one of the AFL’s early and underrated stars, Abner Haynes. That lead held for the rest of the first half and Miami’s defense took charge in the second. They held Bronco quarterback John McCormick to 90 yards passing on 9 completions in 25 attempts, and intercepted him 4 times. Veteran Tobin Rote replaced McCormick and had no success either as the Dolphins sacked him 4 times.

The Dolphins’ offense, led by the head coach’s son, George Wilson Jr., wasn’t that impressive either, but did manage a short scoring run by halfback Joe Auer in each of the last 2 quarters. The final result was a 24-7 Miami victory, the first in franchise history. The Dolphins would go on to win the following week also, defeating the Houston Oilers, and would manage one more win to finish 3-11 for the year, tied for the basement of the Eastern Division with the Oilers. Denver went 4-10 and finished in their usual spot at the bottom of the Western Division.


Joe Auer takes the handoff from George Wilson Jr.


Classic Team Logo of The Day

21 Sep

Logo of a long departed independent college football team, the Xavier University Musketeers. They began play in 1901 as the St. Xavier Saints and kept the program alive until 1973, with a brief hiatus in the 1940s. The school compiled an impressive .573 winning percentage over the years, and won the only bowl game they appeared in, a 35-21 conquest of Arizona State in the 1950 Salad Bowl. Former Musketeers who went on to play pro football include Danny Abramowicz, George Wilson Jr., Art Hauser, John Shinners, Chet Mutryn, Jack Hoffman, Steve Junker and John Martinkovic.


Classic Sports Card of The Day

21 Sep

1967 Topps football card of former pro quarterback George Wilson Jr., who had a brief career, basically only a single season, in the American Football League with the Miami Dolphins. He was drafted by Buffalo in 1965 but never played for them, then was traded to Miami in ’66, where he linked up with the Dolphins’ head coach, his father George Wilson Jr. He played in all 14 games that year, the Dolphins inaugural season as a franchise, and his claim to fame was that he quarterbacked the first victory in team history that year. He was then traded to Denver but didn’t make the squad, so his short-lived pro career was finished. Wilson Jr. died of throat cancer in 2011.


NFL – Throwback Thursday: Buffalo Stampede

14 Sep

The Buffalo Bills host the Las Vegas Raiders this Sunday as week 2 of the NFL season gets underway, and we’ll feature these 2 clubs for Throwback Thursday this week. Let’s travel back to January 20, 1991, to then Rich Stadium, for the AFC Championship game. Buffalo was attempting to reach the Super Bowl for the first time, while the Raiders, based in Los Angeles then, were looking to spoil that party.

It was never even close to being a contest. Jim Kelly led a drive that ended with a 13 yard touchdown pass to James Lofton to open the scoring, and after a Raider field goal the Bills drove downfield again and scored, this time on a 12 yard run by Thurman Thomas. The defense then got in on the action as linebacker Darryl Talley intercepted a Jay Schroeder pass and returned it 27 yards to the end zone to give his team a 21-3 lead after a quarter. The Bills didn’t let up in the second quarter either. Kenny Davis spelled Thomas at running back and scored twice on short runs, followed by another short Kelly to Lofton TD throw of 8 yards. At some point the beleaguered Raiders called what amounted to a basketball timeout to catch their breath as the vaunted no-huddle K-Gun attack of the Bills overwhelmed them. When the dust settled Buffalo held a commanding 41-3 lead at halftime.

I was in the stadium at that game, and across the field from me some fans were spelling out “Hello Tampa” in the stands. (Where the Super Bowl was to be played the next week) I saw that and immediately thought “Holy s**t, the Bills are going to the Super Bowl!” Later that day at home after the game, they showed earlier clips of workers at Tampa Stadium painting the Bills’ logo in the end zone, at halftime of the game! It was just an incredible experience.


Happy Bills’ fans with a message


Coach Marv Levy called off the dogs somewhat in the second half. The Bills scored only 10 points, on another short Davis run and a Scott Norwood field goal, to account for the final score of 51-3, launching the team to the big game. Kelly wound up throwing for 300 yards and the 2 TDs, while Thomas, although leaving the touchdown runs to Davis, racked up 199 yards of total offense. Lofton’s 2 TDs were among his 5 catches for 133 yards. The beleaguered Shroeder was intercepted 5 times by the Buffalo defense before being replaced by Vince Evans, who threw another pick. Little did the Bills and their fans know that what came next was the ultimate heartbreak of “Wide Right” by Norwood in Super Bowl XXV.


Darryl Talley scores on a pick six