The Cleveland Rangers have played nearly 49 games and are seven games under .500. They can be mean, folks.
In future articles, I’ll continue to look at players and talk about what they’re doing right, what they’re doing wrong, and what they can do to improve their performance. But, right now, at this point, it doesn’t seem right to talk about Nick Sandlin refining his release point, Andrés Giménez earning himself more pitches to throw, or Enyel De Los Santos becoming a high-leverage relief option. After Memorial Day, we can turn our attention to these lighter matters. Right now, I want to remind you how, in 2023, to approach cheering for a baseball team that can be bad.
I realize many of you became Cleveland baseball fans in the 1970s, so you’re all too familiar with following a bad team. However, it’s never a bad idea to have a refresher course and some younger fans may have thankfully forgotten about the 2010 season. So while we’re still in the first half of a long season, let’s talk about how to be a fan when the team you love Does not love you.
Pay a little more attention to the minor leagues
“Why pay attention to prospects when they’re just going to let us down when they get to Cleveland?” Yes, yes, I know. Thanks for that, Eeyore. Now that you’ve got it out of your system, let’s remember how much fun it is to watch talented young players try to achieve their dreams.
Consider getting a subscription to MiLB so you can see if Bo Naylor can solve your passing and base-throwing problems, if Brayan Rocchio can start to hit his power a little more consistently and improve some of his short error tendencies, if Gavin Williams can pitch a perfect game against outmatched Triple-A hitters, if Joey Cantillo can maintain high velocity and find some extra control, if Ethan Hankins can continue a fun comeback story and make it to Akron, if Ángel Martínez can criticize himself for a slump of offense in the first half, if Juan Brito can walk in more than half of his plate appearances, if Cade Smith, Michael Kelly or Tyler Thornton could be the next reliever breakout, if George Valera can bounce back and stay healthy for more than a week, and if our beloved SpongeBob, Oscar Gonzalez can earn another shot at making that unique hitting profile work in the bigs.
There are still so many good, young players in the Cleveland system and God knows we need as many as possible to figure it out. Take your mind off the struggling Major League Baseball team and watch the guys trying to make their way onto that team in hopes of making their dreams and the dream of Cleveland fans come true.
Support progress first, then win
“Winning is not everything, it is the ONLY thing”. Yes thank you, I know participation trophies are ruining our partnership and it’s been 75 years since we’ve had a World Series title in Cleveland. I understand. However, here we are with a bad baseball team (possibly), so how can we make the most of it?
Instead of worrying so much about the final score, we focus our attention on encouraging players to progress. Will José Ramírez be able to find the power he lacks? Can Josh Bell raise his launch angle from his shoelaces and become a player who won’t completely blow the roster in 2024 when he opts in? Will Giménez be able to start hitting the ball with authority? Can Josh Naylor continue a recent streak of hitting left-handed pitchers better? Can young pitchers like Logan Allen and Tanner Bibee show development and growth against big league pitchers? Can James Karinchak find a way to legally get more spin on his fastball again? Can Shane Bieber figure out how to consistently strike out more?
Obviously, if multiple players progress through a game, you’re likely to see a win! Which would be nice. But, even if a bad baseball team is playing bad baseball as usual, seeing incremental progress, especially among pieces important to the club’s future, whether on the Cleveland roster or used for trade value, is important and should attract to the fan of bad baseball. team a minimum of joy.
Finally, when it comes to coaching… I’m not sure how realistic it is to expect Cleveland to fire Chris Valaika and send him to Ty Van Burkleo’s bunch of coaches unable to help players reach Major League pitching. Leagues consistently. So we need to encourage Valaika to find out in his first opportunity to be a major league hitting coach. We need to encourage the entire organization to figure out how to get more power out of their group of young contact hitters. Instead of spending our time wallowing in despair that they can’t figure it out, we can look for little signs that maybe, just maybe, they’re going to adjust and improve.
Enjoy more of the idiosyncrasy of the game
“I don’t care about anything but winning baseball games. Shut up with your loser mentality. OK that is good. Don’t read the rest of the article. I understand.
Some days Will Brennan will hit a bird with a ball from the bat. On other days, Brayan Rocchio will unexpectedly play third base for the first time in three years. Other times, Gabriel Arias will completely destroy a baserunner with a laser from right field (wow, I’d love to see that arm at shortstop, too bad, apparently, he’s incapable of playing there). And, on the rarest of occasions, Cam Gallagher will take a decisive blow and raise his fist because no one wanted to break his 2-39 streak more than the official catcher.
Find those moments. Pay attention to the unexpected joys that make the slow road to a disappointing ending bearable. Baseball will provide them to the fan who is willing to seek them out and appreciate their beauty.
Start playing fantasy GM with the trade market
“The team is not going to change anyone and I don’t like to speculate about it.” Ok, well then this tip is not for you.
I really enjoy imagining which players Guardians might target in trades. We know what they need: more power, specifically in right field, and probably some minor league receiving depth. I also enjoy thinking about who the Guardians might sign if they decide to trade players like Bieber and Amed Rosario.
Browse through the FanGraphs minor league standings for right-handed slugging. Scan prospect lists to find prospects who are blocked or well considered in the lower tiers in organizations looking for help pitching in the majors or in the middle of the infield. Imagine big trades like trading a great pitching prospect for a great slugging prospect, or hidden deals that land players with fun names like the Angels’ Trey Cabbage for the boringly named Zach Plesac.
Have fun imagining, ranking, and pairing (but don’t be disappointed when the Guardians don’t trade because they don’t want to muddy the waters. You’re a better GM than Chris Antonetti, you just know that).
Find a baseball team to fall in love with
“I only care about Cleveland baseball!” Definitely an understandable perspective. I understand.
Myself, if this misplay drags on for a couple more weeks, I’ll find myself tuning in to watch highlights and check on a secondary team’s score. I want to see Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani in the playoffs, so maybe it’s the Angels. Maybe it’s our small-market counterparts, the Tampa Bay Rays. Maybe it’s rooting for the Marlins and Diamondbacks like David to beat the Goliaths in the NL East and West, respectively. I’ve found that I can experience some joy there without feeling like I’m cheating on my true love of baseball.
Know that José Ramírez wants to win baseball games for you.
“Jose needs to hit better.” Sure, and I trust you will.
When I’m having a bad mental health day, I sometimes remind myself that when no one thought there was a chance Ramirez would sign an extension, he forced an extension by taking at least a nice $50 million discount.
Sure, in a season like this, I wonder if the Guardians are going to waste Jose’s prime. But instead of worrying about something I can’t control, I should enjoy watching him hit, field, and pick on his teammates. I’m sure it’s already been a difficult season for him, as he lost a dear family member and dealt with disappointing results on the field at his workplace. He still shows up and hits good at-bats and establishes himself as one of the best players in the game.
Even if no one else seems to care about Cleveland baseball fans, sometimes, José Ramírez loves us, and I want to remember that I appreciate that.
Remember: bad baseball is still better than no baseball
“I can’t watch a full season of non-competitive baseball. There are too many games for that.” Counterpoint: baseball is awesome.
The strike was terrible. The next one could be worse. Right now, there’s baseball to watch. I’m taking my son to another game this Friday and he’s going to have a blast even if the Cardinals continue our angst by beating up Shane Bieber and ruining our plans to trade him for a corner outfielder at the deadline.
It is also early. Perhaps this season will become the story of an epic comeback and a dramatic twist. But I can’t kid myself: the Guardians look like a bad baseball team and don’t show much of a sign of life. There will still be plenty of ways to enjoy this season and I hope I have given you some guidance on how to do it.
Now to take my own advice. Doctor, heal yourself!