Hitting jacks, taking games: Guardians’ power leads to series sweep

June 23rd, 2024

CLEVELAND — From the beginning of Guardians Spring Training, everyone — whether it was players, hitting coaches or the manager — talked about one thing: Impacting the baseball.

At the time, it seemed like a rudimentary concept. If you want more power, you have to impact the baseball. Yet the idea was way more complex than anyone on the outside realized. It was a strategy that meant being OK with swinging and missing at a first pitch (unless you’re Steven Kwan, who refuses to whiff) if you’re trying to do more damage on the ball rather than just putting it into play and hoping for the best.

No one knew if it would work. But as the Guardians completed a sweep of the Blue Jays with a 6-5 win at Progressive Field on Sunday afternoon, it’s clear that the commitment to impact the ball has paid dividends.

“It’s really fun,” Guardians manager Stephen Vogt said. “When you sit down and you put a plan together … it always sounds good when it’s on paper.”

The plan had to be put together. The Guardians were at the bottom of every power leaderboard last year, and they didn’t make any significant changes to add thump to their roster over the offseason. This strategy needed to work if the Guardians were to be competitive this year, and this weekend added even more proof that it has.

On the heels of a four-homer performance on Saturday, Cleveland picked up two more — from Kwan and Josh Naylor — to complete the sweep after a 40-minute rain delay on Sunday. It was the Guardians’ fifth consecutive win.

Kwan’s jack marked a career high (his seventh) in just 49 games. Naylor’s blast tied his career high (20) in just 72 games.

But this is about more than just personal milestones. It is a representation of a much bigger trend up and down the lineup.

On June 23, 2023, the Guardians had a Major League-worst 49 homers in 75 games. Fast forward one year and they have 88 homers through the same number of contests. Cleveland ended last season with the fewest homers in the Majors (124). Entering Sunday, the team was tied for 10th among all 30 clubs. That’s without including Kwan’s and Naylor’s most recent dingers.

“It’s cool to watch [Kwan] grow [into power],” Naylor said. “[But it’s] multiple players. [Will] Brennan is doing the same thing. [Tyler] Freeman, Bo [Naylor], obviously [José Ramírez] speaks for himself, [David] Fry. Through and through, our whole lineup, it’s just growth year to year and understanding you can evolve as a player as the game goes on.”

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Naylor is right. From the top of the order to the last man on the bench, players have bought into this new concept. Ramírez is already five homers away from matching last year’s total. Brennan hit five homers in 138 games last year and already has eight in 66 games this season. And Fry’s scorching start to the season may be the best proof of this philosophy. In 55 games this season, he has doubled the homer total he posted over 57 games last year.

“Taking shots early, understanding what pitches you can drive. It’s OK to swing and miss early,” Vogt said. “It’s all fun and games to say that, but when the guys actually go do it, and then they see the results, they see the fruits of that idea, people start to buy in.”

That buy-in has led the Guardians to a 49-26 record and the top of the American League Central, something no one other than the players in that clubhouse would’ve predicted. Cleveland entered Sunday averaging 5.04 runs per game. The last time the club averaged that amount or more for a full season was in 2018. Plating another six runs in the series finale against Toronto only increases that number.

There’s more than half of the season remaining. The Guardians know that this plan has to be sustainable for the rest of the year in order to hold their dominance in the division, especially with an overtaxed bullpen and a thin rotation. But so far, it’s proven to be the answer to their struggles. And if experience is all they needed, the Guardians are hoping that each day will just get better.

“Power comes with age and experience,” Vogt said. “Our guys are young. Every day they get a little older, a little more experienced, and as you continue to stockpile that stuff, you’re gonna see some guys really understand what pitches they can drive.”