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Terry Francona hopes Guardians’ surprise season is a ‘starting point’

Moments after the Guardians lost Game 5 of the American League Division Series to the Yankees on Tuesday, manager Terry Francona told his team how proud he was – and how much he believed the future could be bright.

Few picked Cleveland, baseball’s youngest team and a small spender, to do much this season. But the club won 92 games and American League Central, swept the Rays in the wild card round and forced a win-win game against the well-funded, seeded Yankees.

As the Guardians ultimately lost their final game of the season, 5-1, in the Bronx, Francona reminded his players that they had gone further than anyone outside of the franchise imagined. But the 63-year-old manager also stressed that there was still work to be done and that this season, surprising to outsiders, had to be the start of something.

“I know they’re hurting right now because they care and they’ve worked incredibly hard,” Francona said. “But hopefully as this wears off they realize how proud we are of them and how much we care about them. And [I] also reminded them that this should be a starting point for us. It can’t just be a good story this year. We have to take that and go, because I think we have a chance to have something really special.

The Twins, White Sox and even the Tigers were thought to have an edge in AL Central at the start of the 2022 season, but Cleveland took the division with their deep pitching team and contact-based offense.

With perennial MVP contender José Ramírez entrenched in the roster, the Guardians also received stellar rookie seasons from Steven Kwan and Oscar Gonzalez. Amed Rosario and Andrés Giménez, both acquired commercially from Francisco Lindor, had career-best seasons, and Josh Naylor hit 20 home runs for the first time.

On the pitching front, Shane Bieber pitched as himself the winner of Cy Young, while Triston McKenzie and Cal Quantrill emerged as formidable hits behind the ace. Zach Plesac and Aaron Civale also pitched well at times — although the Yankees jumped on Civale in Game 5.

The Cleveland bullpen, meanwhile, saw four record ERAs below 3.00: Emmanuel Clase, Trevor Stephan, Sam Hentges and James Karinchak. Clase finished with a 1.36 ERA and 42 saves.

With few key contributors heading into free agency, the Guardians will retain more than just a core in 2023. Maybe they’ll even spend a little more to upgrade a roster that missed out on the chance to play for a one-game World Series appearance.

Either way, Francona hopes to build on a season that lasted longer than expected.

“I have no idea what next year will be like,” he said. “I just finished talking to a group of guys who are heartbroken because we care about them. And they showed that even though we didn’t reach our final destination, it’s been a pretty good year. A lot of things happened that I don’t think people expected. Where it goes from here is up to us. We will have to cash in and do better. »