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Guardians' magical season ends in New York, but the future is bright for baseball's youngest team

Guardians fans react with disappointment after a bad play. They are in the upper deck and the sign below them says "Lets Go Guards"
Ygal Kaufman
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Guardians fans react with disappointment to a missed opportunity late in Saturday's game.

The Cleveland Guardians’ magical season came to end on Tuesday as they lost to the New York Yankees 5-1 in the decisive Game 5 of the American League Division Series. Cleveland starting pitcher Aaron Civale gave up a three-run homer in the first inning.

Our sports commentator Terry Pluto said many fans will second-guess the decision to start Civale over the the team's ace, Shane Bieber, in Game 5.

"Bieber had missed three months last year with a sore shoulder. This year he threw a lot of innings, 200, which is number three in the American League, and he had two good starts in the postseason. And [manager] Terry Francona and the front office said, 'We're not going to risk just having him pitch out of his normal routine and possibly hurt that shoulder again,'" Pluto said.

And, Pluto encouraged fans to look at the big picture: "Game 5 with the Yankees in the division playoffs in the Bronx? Are you kidding me? How did they ever get to that?"

The Guardians defied the odds this season to finish with a 92-70 regular season record and a Central Division title.

"ESPN does a thing called preseason power rankings. Out of the 30 major league teams, they had Cleveland 20th. And not only that, they had them third in their own division, behind Detroit and Minnesota," Pluto said.

And, the series with the Yankees was billed as David vs. Goliath.

"Baseball's youngest team and one of baseball's lowest payrolls, took the highest-paid team and the biggest market, New York, to five full games," Pluto said. "[The Guardians] had so many come-from-behind victories this year, 13 with their last at-bat. That's a franchise record with all these kids just playing like crazy. That's how I look at the year."

And Pluto said the good news is the team will largely remain intact next season.

"The key thing that happened was in spring training, José Ramírez signed a long-term contract extension. And not only that, he asked for a no-trade [clause] because he didn't want to leave Cleveland. So, he's committed for six more years, and you just build with the young players around him. None of the key players are anywhere near free agency. But, also, this is not just a one-and -done, or even two-and-out, type process. You have several years to keep building a team with the smartest front office of baseball, I think, and and one of the best managers."

So, what can the Guardians do in the offseason to beat the Yankees next year?

"There are going to be some veteran hitters around, maybe could get them through trades, because they have a ton of prospects in the minors. And now they could actually pinpoint, well, what do we need? What does it take to get past them? Because in the end, [the Guardians] hardly hit at all in the postseason," Pluto said.

Looking back on the season, Pluto said it was a pivotal moment for the franchise that was facing a lot of backlash from the fan base following the name change.

"It changed the narrative about the franchise, at least with a number of people. Even if people weren't fully embracing the state of the franchise, they had to get grudging respect out of it," Pluto said.

And, he said, the future is bright.

"Remember this about the Guardians — ever since Francona joined up with the front office ten years ago, this is now nine winning seasons and six trips to the playoffs," Pluto said. "And next year, we should expect they'll be the favorites to win the Central Division. It should be a lot of fun."

Amanda Rabinowitz is the host of “All Things Considered” on Ideastream Public Media.