The Guardians clinching the American League Central so early has afforded them an extended chance to align their starting rotation for the postseason. That process has already begun.
Shane Bieber and Triston McKenzie are in line to start Games 1 and 2, respectfully, in the American League Wild Card Series, a best-of-three series that begins Friday, Oct. 7. The Guardians will play the No. 6 seed in the AL — likely either the Tampa Bay Rays or the Seattle Mariners — with every game in the series being played at Progressive Field. Game 3, if necessary, would fall to Cal Quantrill.
On Thursday, the team announced that Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac would be flipped in the rotation, meaning Civale would now pitch Friday's game and Plesac would take the mound on Saturday. That will allow Civale to then pitch the Guardians' final game of the regular season on Wednesday. If the Guardians advance past the best-of-three Wild Card Series, that would in turn put Civale in line to start Game 1 of the American League Division Series if the first series goes three games and Quantrill has to pitch Game 3.
Plesac, who has been rehabbing a fractured hand after he punched the mound in Seattle and was placed on the injured list, will then move to the bullpen for the postseason after making Saturday's start.
"As we've dialogued with Aaron, we think his best role to impact the team is in a starting role," President of Baseball Operations Chris Antonetti said. "This positions him best to be able to do that. With Zach, there's a possibility he could start on Saturday and he could be a bullpen option for us moving into the postseason. There are a lot of different considerations we're weighing, but that was the thought process behind having Aaron start Friday and be in line to start Wednesday and have Zach start on Saturday."
Civale had a nightmare first half to the season (6.17 ERA) but has been much improved in the second half, posting a 3.48 ERA in his past 31 innings. Bieber, McKenzie and Quantrill have paced the rotation thus far, but if the Guardians advance deep enough into the playoffs, Civale will likely need to play a significant role.
Bo Naylor added to Cleveland Guardians practice squad
The Guardians still have some roster decisions to make as to how to construct their playoff roster for the Wild Card Series. It's unclear if the team will carry a third catcher, something that is possible, as it would allow for additional pinch-hitting and pinch-running opportunities late in games with Austin Hedges and Luke Maile.
Regardless of whether it impacts the plays roster, top catching prospect Bo Naylor would be the next man up in the event of an injury. On Thursday, Naylor was added to the team's taxi squad, meaning he can catch bullpens and at least be with the major league team in the dugout, though he isn't on the active roster.
Between Double-A And Triple-A this season, Naylor put together a rare 20-20 season for a catcher, hitting 21 home runs and stealing 20 bases and hitting a combined .263 and posting a .392 on-base percentage. Though with Triple-A Columbus out of games, the Guardians at least wanted Naylor able to be active in Cleveland in some fashion. It also afforded him an opportunity to work with first base and catchers coach Sandy Alomar Jr., along with Hedges and Maile.
"We thought it made sense to have him up here to be around our staff, be around Sandy, be around our coaches," Antonetti said. "At a minimum he could be a foul tip away from being an option for us if it were needed. The more familiarity he has with our environment, the better. Where that might lead, I have no idea."
Naylor would be the team's best offensive catcher by a large margin in addition to providing depth and roster flexibility.
"We think it's a competitive advantage to have that type of player that can catch and play a demanding position that has a chance to be, as we look at building rosters in the future as competitive advantage for us," Antonetti said, speaking generally and not necessarily about the playoff roster. "He has to first and foremost be able to receive and lead a pitching staff, which Bo has been tremendous at. Then you layer on his offensive abilities, his ability to run the bases. It starts to get exciting to think about the possibilities."
Naylor is the younger brother of Guardians first baseman Josh Naylor, allowing a family reunion of sorts within Cleveland's clubhouse, even if the younger Naylor isn't on the active roster just yet.
"He was excited. I feel like with Josh and everything, he's just, everything that I tell him, he's over the moon for it," Bo Naylor said. "He's a really supportive brother and with everything that goes on, he's always behind me 100 percent. It's really good to be able to be with him here and be able to share this experience with him."
Bo Naylor's offense is his calling card and the reason he's been held in such high esteem as a prospect. The Guardians have long put a premium on a catcher's ability to handle the starting rotation and bullpen, call games and control the running game. Naylor says that's the area in which he improved the most in 2022.
"I think I really took an approach to get to know my pitchers and the guys I was working with in front of me very seriously and got to know them as best as possible to be able to see what kind of stuff they like to use in certain counts, to be able to see their stuff, how it goes throughout a long game and to be able to make in-game adjustments," Naylor said. "I think working with the pitching coaches I was with this year and keeping an open dialogue, that really helped my game-calling and overall my defensive experience this year."
Ryan Lewis can be reached at email@example.com. Read more about the Guardians at www.beaconjournal.com/sports/cleveland-guardians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Bo Naylor added to Cleveland Guardians practice squad; Plesac, Civale flipped