6:06 AM UTC
At this point in the season, the focus turns toward the players who have something to prove.
Although the Guardians secured a 6-3 victory over the Angels on Friday night at Angel Stadium, the first-place Twins also walked away with a win against the Mets, keeping their lead at 6 1/2 games ahead of Cleveland in the AL Central.
With just 20 games remaining in the regular season, that type of deficit will be difficult to erase. While the club will continue to try to pull off the improbable comeback, the rest of us can start to take a deeper look at how things may shake out in 2024. There has already been plenty of speculation about the shortstop competition. There couldn’t be a brighter spotlight on the young arms in the rotation. But outfielder Will Brennan has just as much to prove as anyone in the final weeks of the regular season.
The Guardians will need to improve their offense this winter. The easiest place to add is the outfield. There was hope that No. 5 prospect George Valera would be able to reach the Majors this year, but after injuries made this a clunky season for him in the Minors, it delayed his final promotion. That allowed Brennan to get plenty of playing time, but until recently, he’s struggled to find a groove
Over his last 16 games, Brennan is batting .407 (22-for-54) with seven RBIs. Two of those hits came on Friday.
“He’s kind of laying off the fastball that’s out of the strike zone,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “And when he gets a breaking ball, he’s not chasing the one down and the one they throw for strikes, he’s hitting.”
It’s only been a small sample size, but Brennan’s chase rate has been heading in the right direction. Before his hot stretch over the last 16 contests, he owned a 38.8% chase rate. In this span, his chase rate has been 35.1%. Sure, both numbers are well above the 28.5% average across MLB, but that slight difference has resulted in more hits.
So, what has Brennan done to find this consistency after riding a rollercoaster for most of the 2023 season? Well, his answer earlier this week was pretty simple:
“Just come to the realization that you are who you are,” Brennan said. “Learn to show up every day and have fun. If you put too much pressure on yourself, it can go in the other direction and you can stink and you’re not helping the team at all. So I just tried to take some pressure off myself. We have some really good vets in there that give some good advice.”
The confidence the Guardians have in Brennan has been obvious since Day 1. The team had just come off an exhilarating 2022 season in which Oscar Gonzalez delivered huge hits in the most critical games to help carry his club into the second round of the playoffs. Yet on Opening Day this year, with both Brennan and Gonzalez on the roster, Cleveland decided to start Brennan in right field. And as Gonzalez has made multiple trips back and forth from Triple-A Columbus, Brennan has been a mainstay on this roster, despite the hurdles he’s faced.
That doesn’t mean anything is guaranteed for 2024. The organization knows just how badly it needs to improve offensively, considering it ranked 27th in OPS (.690), 28th in runs scored (570) and 30th in homers (106) entering Friday night. If the Guardians add to their outfield over the winter, it may make it difficult for Brennan to see consistent playing time.
That’s why the final few weeks of this season are critical for Brennan to find his stride to not only prove to Cleveland that he can be the player the team hoped he’d be and for him to also gain the confidence to go into the winter with a strong foundation to build upon. And over the last two and a half weeks, he’s certainly trended in the right direction.
“He competes so well,” Francona said earlier this week. “He doesn’t give in. He’ll maybe miss a pitch he thinks he should hit, but he stays alive. He uses the whole field. … He’s an easy kid to root for.”