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The Guardians Picked A Direction

Aaron Civale #43 of the Cleveland Guardians pitches in the first inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates during inter-league play at PNC Park on July 19, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

With all due dues to Comrade Roth, who explained this better here than we will below, the real conundrum du jour is not with the New York Mets or San Diego Padres, who are in divisions performing better than they are, or with the Chicago White Sox, who are just rank. It is with the Cleveland 'Ians, who were once Ind but now are Guard. They had to look at their place in the standings and decide, Are we the second-best team in our division and a layer of plaque away from leading the same, or are we 11th, as close to the Tigers as the Blue Jays?

We know what they decided when they traded starting pitcher Aaron Civale to Tampa Bay for the alleged promise and bad shoulder of first baseman Kyle Manzardo. They decided that being a half-game (now a full game) behind the free-falling Minnesota Twins is a lie and that being a doomed also-ran is what they really are. Now there's a message for players, managers and fans to hold close to their chests as they give away their season.

Put another way, two chirpers on MLB Radio were trying to explain this deal in an evenhanded way as is their mandate, and the one (I couldn't recognize either voice except to say that neither was Mark Jackson) defending Cleveland's thinking opened with the blood-curdling phrase, "From an organizational standpoint." At that point, the words that followed turned to dulling static because nonsense would surely ensue.

There were other second-level deals made by contenders as the day went on, with the Cubs weirdly being the most aggressive team despite being 3.5 games back, but Arizona and Milwaukee also taking stuff off the shelves. In fact, the Diamondbacks took Seattle's closer, Paul Sewald, while the Mariners are also 3.5 back. Neither of those teams are out of anything either, but they're not in like Cleveland ought to think it is.

The simple truth here is that pennant races, or in this case wild-card races, are still precious things not to be squandered except in an emergency like extreme awfulness, and the Guards are by no means that. Yes, they have a pipeline of starting pitchers, and yes they are dead last in home runs by 12 percent over the hideous Washington Nationals, but this is not a difficult choice that baseball ops guy Chris Antonetti seems to have bollixed up because despite his denials that he is bailing on the season he chose to view his team in a vacuum—winning half their games, all of them seemingly by a score of zero-to-minus-one—rather than as part of a deeply crummy whole. They cannot reasonably be expected to catch any team in the playoff race unless they know something about Tampa, Houston, and Toronto that we don't, but surely being a game behind the Twins with 55 to play is relatively surmountable.

I mean, it's the Twins, whose best healthy every day player is second baseman Edouard Julien, and whose best pitcher by WAR, Sonny Gray, is apparently available to suitors for the right number of controllable preteens. They have a 67 percent chance of making the postseason according to Baseball Reference, but they have also not been more than two games above .500 since June 3. They seem the very antithesis of the kind of team that is ready to pull away from a dismal field.

Now it would be damned hilarious if somehow the Clevelands managed to win the Central anyway, with or without Manzardo, whose resume before this year was actually quite reasonable as prospects who get traded for regular starting pitchers go. The idea that Antonetti might be as wrong about his team's present as he is eager to imagine its future is the kind of own that only general managers truly feel, as it precludes them taking credit for the thing in which they don't believe.

But that isn't justice. The 'Ians players got the message as it was sent, and if they have the gumption to defy their superiors by winning anyway, that's up to them, but if they do manage the incredibly difficult feat of closing a gap that isn't even nine innings wide, they should make sure that every interview they do before they host their first playoff game includes the phrase, From an organizational standpoint, we were regarded like we were the Royals, yet here we are. We bet they don't.

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