4 reasons why Guardians have surged to 1st place

12:27 AM UTC

This story was excerpted from Mandy Bell’s Guardians Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

It’s now the end of August and the Guardians entered their four-game set against Seattle with a 65.1 percent chance to win the American League Central, according to FanGraphs. How are they still atop the division? Let’s take a look at four big reasons:

1. Starting pitching

This has been the team’s bread and butter for years, but in 2022, the Guardians have had to figure out how to rack up victories without dominant pitching. Well, in the last few weeks, the starters have settled in and have been one of the biggest reasons why Cleveland has soared to the top of the division.

Entering the four-game set in Seattle, the Guardians had won 12 of their last 16 games. In that span, the starters posted a collective 2.08 ERA while averaging over six innings per start. And during that stretch, Cleveland went from being two games back of the Twins to a season-high four games up on both the Twins and White Sox.

2. Oscar Gonzalez

There’s a reason Cleveland is starting to slot Gonzalez in the cleanup spot more frequently. Since he returned from the injured list, Gonzalez has been one of the most productive hitters in the Guardians’ lineup, proving it even more against a playoff-caliber team in the Padres this week. Before he got to Seattle, he owned a .338 average with 11 extra-base hits in 19 games since he was activated off the injured list.

3. Steven Kwan

Kwan has been the biggest pickup for the Guardians this season. Not only did they find a productive rookie who could help them win games, but they found a reliable, textbook leadoff hitter who has brought tremendous life to this lineup. Since the All-Star break, Kwan’s found another gear, slashing .338/.399/.462 with 25 runs scored in 31 games entering Thursday.

4. Jos? Ram?rez is heating up

Even when Ram?rez isn’t at his best, he’s still second in the Majors in RBIs, trailing just AL MVP favorite Aaron Judge.

Ram?rez hasn’t been as lethal as we’ve seen him in the past, and usually that’s difficult for this lineup to navigate. But this season, the club has been able to turn to guys like Kwan and Gonzalez to help keep the offense afloat when Ram?rez isn’t carrying the team.

But now, Ram?rez is showing signs of heating up, which could take this club to another level. In his 11 games prior to the series opener at T-Mobile Park, Ram?rez had hit .341 with a 1.055 OPS, four homers and 15 RBIs. If his bat gets (and stays) scorching hot, Cleveland’s odds of hanging on to the division can only go up.