The Cleveland Guardians bested the White Sox in the division last season. They finished with the division crown, sporting an 11-game gap over the preseason-favored, second-place South Siders.
Were the Guardians aiming to defeat the White Sox?
"Yeah, I would say so," Steven Kwan told Chuck Garfien on the White Sox Talk podcast. "I think especially because we had a lot of media around us that always shoved in our face(s) at the Sox were the ones that were going to get us."
The Guardians' finished 12-7 against the White Sox. And, as aforementioned, they finished with the unexpected division win to send them to the playoffs. They made it to the ALDS, breezing past the Tampa Bay Rays and contesting the New York Yankees. They lost their divisional series to the Yankees, 3-2.
Cleveland wasn't expected to surpass the White Sox last season amid an ongoing, expected championship window. Yet, they got the job done by beating up on the White Sox during the regular season and besting their record.
How did a young team like the Guardians perform a spectacular season, as they did in 2022?
"Just believing in each other. And I mean, I think we genuinely like each other," Kwan said. "In the locker room, we all hang out, we play games here, we hang out on the bus, we hang out after the games. Having camaraderie with your teammates, and again, trusting each other, believing in each other, having good culture.
"I think that all culminates into winning."
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This is where the White Sox can learn from their division rivals and look to improve their clubhouse.
The 2022 season was messy. The clubhouse vibe was certainly different from the past two seasons. They were not the fiery, energetic, swagger-oozing team they once were. They were a watered-down version of it, riddled with injuries and a lack of fire.
What's even more frightening, they weren't a "real family."
“I think sometimes talking about the past can bring a lot of animosity but I think the best way I can put it is just that we weren’t a real family," former White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu told the Chicago Sun-Times.
This seems to have been the kryptonite, or at least part of the reason for the White Sox' underwhelming season last year.
If the White Sox want to erase the memories from last season and revert to their winning ways, they'll need to form a more cohesive bond. The AL Central winners believe that. And Abreu said of his new team, the Houston Astros, "they're a real family." (He twisted the knife with that one.)
Abreu said he understands why the Astros have seen so much success over the past two years. The Astros have been to the World Series four times in the past six seasons, winning two of them. According to the former White Sox icon, it's because of the clubhouse camaraderie.
The White Sox seemingly are bound for success this season; or, at least, an improvement from last season. They brought in fresh faces in the form of manager Pedro Grifol and his staff, and the likes of Andrew Benintendi and Mike Clevinger. The White Sox are assuredly favorites to win the AL Central division in 2023.
But don't be fooled, however, as the Guardians – and the rest of the division, for that matter – watched them become mere mortals.
"When you play good teams, it's always motivation," Kwan said. "You want to be the best and you want to be the best. So I think whenever you play playing a good team, you want to elevate to that standard."