The Cleveland Guardians, after a disappointing 2021 season where they finished 80-82, remain atop the AL Central with a month left in the regular season. But the Guardians, armed with a fresh rebrand, could not afford to fall asleep behind the wheel. They are a mere 1.5 games ahead of the Minnesota Twins, a team that has every incentive to surpass the Guardians in the standings.

The expert prognosis before the season began was that if the Guardians were to have any success, they would need to piece together a workable offense. Third baseman Jose Ramirez has surely done his part in carrying the load offensively. The Guardians' defense has been stellar, led by the 23-year old second baseman Andres Gimenez, currently in the midst of a breakout season, catching stalwart Austin Hedges, and specialist outfielder Myles Straw. Their defense is fourth in Defensive Runs Saved, according to The Fielding Bible, and they are top five in Fangraphs' team defense rankings.

Meanwhile, their pitching staff belongs in the Top 10 of Fangraphs' pitching WAR, led by 27-year old ace Shane Bieber and 24-year old #2 Triston McKenzie's 3.02 and 3.17 ERA, respectively, while closer Emmanuel Clase has been one of the most reliable shutdown bullpen arms in the league, sporting an elite 1.15 ERA.

But the Guardians badly need to address this one glaring flaw in their offense so they can secure a playoff berth and perhaps make a deep run into the Fall Classic.

Live and breathe sports?

🚨 Get viral graphics, memes, rumors and trending sports news delivered right to your inbox with the Clutch Newsletter.

1 flaw Guardians must fix in final month of 2022 season

Power hitting production, specifically from the outfield

The burden to drive in runs cannot fall squarely on third baseman Jose Ramirez' shoulders. The Guardians' All-Star is sporting an impressive .282/352/.546 with 26 home runs, the only Guardians player with over 20 home runs on the season. Ramirez is flanked on the infield by Gimenez, who is boasting a stellar .302/.366/.488 slash line (with 15 HRs) from the middle of the diamond.

Josh Naylor, the heavy-hitting first baseman, had missed 34 games due to injury and yet he remains the Guardians' second most-reliable power option, with a meager 16 HRs (relative to first baseman standards) in 375 plate appearances.

Meanwhile, other Guardians outfielders such as Steven Kwan and Straw cannot be relied on at all for power production, even though Kwan more than makes up for it with his production in other regards.

Simply put, the burden falls on rookie corner outfielder Oscar Gonzalez to step up even more.

Gonzalez, the 24-year old out of the Dominican Republic, has seized the opportunity that was afforded him back in late May, when he displaced former Guardian Franmil Reyes on the depth chart. Gonzalez is hitting .285/.312/.443 – solid numbers for a rookie, but it is apparent that he has tons of room to grow in the power department. On the season, he has only hit 5 homeruns in the Majors. However, Gonzalez posted a combined 31 HRs and 70 runs batted in across two minor-league levels in 2021.

Gonzalez has never been the most patient or selective hitter at the plate (his 3.5% walk rate leaves much to be desired) so he has to compensate with quality batted balls, something he's shown that he's capable of. If he can somehow translate the power he showed in the minors to the big leagues, the Guardians will be in a much more comfortable spot in the playoff race.

The Guardians have a golden opportunity to distance themselves from the Twins, as they have eight more games to go against their division rivals this September. If Gonzalez can rise to the challenge and Jose Ramirez and Andres Gimenez continue to be as productive as they have been, the Guardians could have more breathing room in the race for the AL Central.