The Cleveland Guardians era begins Thursday as one of the American League’s founding teams claims a new name for the first time in more than 100 years. The Guardians will travel to Kansas City to face the Royals.

The club was formed in 1901 as the Blues, but in the club’s first season, the Cleveland Plain Dealer referred to the team as the Babes, Spiders, Buckeyes and Clevelands at different points throughout the season. In 1902, the Cleveland Press, a rival newspaper, named the team the Bronchos.

The Bronchos nickname lasted only one season before the Press held a fan poll to vote on the team’s new name. The fans resoundingly voted for the Naps in honor of the team’s star player, Nap Lajoie. Lajoie had a tremendous 13-year career in Cleveland, hitting .339 with an .840 OPS, 919 RBIs and 424 doubles. When Lajoie left for Philadelphia in 1915, a new nickname was needed.

The Indians nickname lasted through the end of last season.

The Guardians, like the Indians before them, will rely on a solid pitching staff to contend in 2022. Shane Bieber, the 2020 Cy Young Award winner who missed a chunk of the 2021 season with a strained throwing shoulder, is expected to be back at full strength. He’ll get the start on Opening Day against the Royals.

“Biebs’ resume kind of speaks for itself,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said after announcing the decision late in spring training. “We just wanted to make sure that he was ready in case we needed to alter it, because the way we’re coming into the season isn’t (according to) the way guys pitched. It’s just because it’s a short spring and we need to give them the best chance to be as ready as they can be.”

Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac also return in 2022 after missing portions of last season with injuries. Civale was sidelined with a sprained finger. Plesac broke his thumb taking off his jersey. Cal Quantrill burst onto the scene with an 8-3 record and a 2.89 ERA in 22 starts. Triston McKenzie struggled somewhat, but his 4.95 ERA is plenty solid for a fifth starter.

The question for the Guardians will be on offense, which the team did little to improve after finishing 2021 in the bottom third in the majors in batting average and OPS.

The Royals, meanwhile, welcome back Zack Greinke, who won a Cy Young Award in 2009 before asking for and receiving a trade prior to the 2011 season. The haul the Royals received in the trade was part of the core that won back-to-back American League championships in 2014 and 2015 and a World Series championship in 2015.

Greinke signed as a free agent during spring training. Greinke doesn’t throw as hard as he did early in his career, but he still has excellent control. He allowed 1.9 walks per nine innings in 2021.

His biggest value to the Royals probably will be tutoring the cadre of young pitchers on the staff. The Royals have six starting pitchers between the ages of 24 and 26 vying for the other four spots in the rotation.

Greinke will get the ball for the first game of the season.

“The decision was made the day we met before he even signed here,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “(We made) it very clear to him the expectations of what he was going to do for this club. He’s the right guy.”

–Field Level Media