The Cleveland Guardians are American League Central champions for the first time since 2018.
Thanks to the Chicago White Sox's 4-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers on Sunday, the Guardians clinched their fifth playoff berth and fourth division title in the past seven seasons.
Manager Terry Francona has Cleveland in the playoffs for the sixth time in his 10 seasons with the club. It made the postseason once in the previous 11 years before his arrival.
Coming off an 80-82 record in 2021, expectations were understandably muted for the Guardians this season. Ownership continued to keep costs down with the fourth-lowest payroll in Major League Baseball.
The first indication of positive vibes this season came right before opening day. All-Star third baseman José Ramírez agreed to a seven-year contract extension that runs through the 2028 season.
The $124 million in new money for the 30-year-old more than doubled the previous franchise record for a contract (Edwin Encarnación: three years, $60 million).
In addition to Ramírez deciding to remain with the franchise, Cleveland was able to make significant strides this season thanks to many surprise performances.
Andrés Giménez, who was acquired from the New York Mets in the Francisco Lindor trade, was arguably the Guardians' best player in 2022. He ranks fifth among all AL position players in FanGraphs' wins above replacement (5.9) and was named to the All-Star team.
Steven Kwan made the 26-man roster out of spring training. The 24-year-old is likely going to be a finalist for AL Rookie of the Year after posting a .295/.371/.392 slash line and elite defense in left field.
The Guardians' offense stands out for how they succeed. They are a throwback group with a lot of contact and stolen bases, but minimal power. Their 121 homers are the second-fewest in MLB, but they are third in stolen bases (109) and first in strikeouts (1,032).
Per FanGraphs, the Guardians have the highest contact rate on pitches swung at both in (88.3 percent) and out of the zone (70.9 percent).
Cleveland's reputation as a pitching factory continued to produce big results this season. Former AL Cy Young winner Shane Bieber is on pace to have his lowest ERA in a 162-game season (2.81). Triston McKenzie, a first-round draft pick in 2015, has taken a huge step forward with a 3.04 ERA and 0.97 WHIP.
The bullpen, led by All-Star closer Emmanuel Clase, ranks second in the AL in FanGraphs WAR (5.8) and third in ERA (3.10).
This was a disappointing year overall for the AL Central. The defending division champion White Sox never found consistency, while the Minnesota Twins dealt with a number of injuries to key players and poor pitching.
The Kansas City Royals and Tigers remain mired in obscurity as their rebuilds have yet to pay off.
This wasn't expected to be a big year for the Guardians, but they took advantage of the opportunities presented to them and have a chance to compete for a World Series in October.