USA TODAY Sports Weekly

Keys to victory

- – Casey Moore

Manufactur­e runs: Only the Tigers hit fewer home runs than the Guardians in 2022, but Cleveland still managed to finish in the top half of the league in runs scored thanks to being a top-10 squad in batting average (.254) and 12th in on-base percentage (.316). This scrappy formula helped them win the AL Central title, but can it work again? The front office signed first baseman Josh Bell and catcher Mike Zunino to improve its power.

Solid rotation: Shane Bieber is an ace and Triston McKenzie a legit No. 2.

But after that duo, there’s less certainty. Cal Quantrill put together a second consecutiv­e solid season. That said, last year marked the third season in a row that Quantrill’s expected ERA was more than 4.00 (4.31 in 2022). It was also the third year in a row he outperform­ed that number. But even if Quantrill does it again, there are more pressing concerns about Zach Plesac and Aaron Civale holding things up in the back end of the rotation. Cleveland has a handful of up-andcoming options, but none particular­ly ready to

break down the door. Top prospect Daniel Espino, who was likely ticketed for Class AAA, has been shut down from throwing due to a strained shoulder and will miss at least the first month of the season. No margin for error:

The Guardians found success by doing the little things correctly, including putting the bat on the ball, fundamenta­lly sound defense, smart base running and a lock-down bullpen. In order to compete with the Astros, Yankees and Blue Jays, Cleveland has to duplicate those marks.

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