For the first time under their new moniker, the Cleveland Guardians are both AL Central champions and playoff bound. Later today, the Guardians will play host to the Tampa Bay Rays to open the Wild Card round of the MLB playoffs under a new format.
Due to the new league collective bargaining agreement, the Wild Card Game has been replaced by the best-of-three Wild Card Series, which functions as the first round of play. The higher seed in each Wild Card Series will host all the games of that series, be it two or a maximum of three games. The League Championship Series and World Series remain best-of-seven series with the home-field advantage going to the team with the best record in each series and there's no re-seeding after any round.
Now that we know the path towards the playoffs, let's get familiar with Tampa Bay, a somewhat-new City of Champions. Sure, the Rays are on a bit of a slide to finish the season. But, if Cleveland wants to prevent them from joining Tom Brady and the Buccaneers as well as Steven Stamkos and the Lightning, they need to be ready to play ball. Today, Right Down Euclid will be breaking down the series itself as well as some key things to watch for as things get underway at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.
Guardians vs. Rays odds, moneyline, over/under and more
- Series: Guardians (-128); Rays (+108)
- Game 1 spread: Guardians (-1.5)
- Game 1 moneyline: Guardians (-122); Rays (+104)
- Game 1 over/under: 6
- Game 1 correct score: Guardians 2, Rays 1 (+1500)
- Series length: 2 games (-110); 3 games (-110)
- World Series: Rays (+2000); Guardians (+3000)
- American League Champion: Rays (+750); Guardians (+1100)
- Reach ALCS: Rays (+300); Guardians (+370)
The Guardians are seeking its first World Series title since 1948, the longest current drought in the game. The Rays, meanwhile, are seeking their first World Series title ever, with the club originally known as the Devil Rays in pursuit of glory since 1998, their inaugural season.
In six regular-season meetings in 2022, the Guardians bested the Rays four games to two, including two out of three less than a week ago in Cleveland. This is the second time the two teams will meet in the postseason, with Tampa Bay previously taking down the then-Cleveland Indians 4-0 in the 2013 AL Wild Card Game.
The Rays have lost five straight and eight of their last ten games. Clearly, they're on a bit of a slide and after their slide including two close losses to the Guardians, things could be in Cleveland's favor in this matchup. However, former Guardians pitcher Corey Kluber is 1-0 against his former team this season. Josh Lowe is hitting the ball very well against Cleveland as well this season. The Rays are down, but they certainly aren't out heading into a cold matchup in Cleveland.
The Guardians, meanwhile, are in a different spot heading into this series – winning two in a row and seven of their last ten overall. Cleveland's bats are starting to wake up at the right time after concerns they went dormant when autumn arrived. The Guardians have averaged 4.9 runs per game in their last 10 appearances, which should give them a shot.
With all that said, this could be a close matchup and something hardcore baseball enthusiasts will adore. Both of these teams have a similar managerial style with Cleveland's Terry Francona and Tampa Bay's Kevin Cash and deploy a similar brand of baseball. Don't be surprised if this goes to three games with the winner heading to New York to take on the Yankees in the next round.
Cleveland manager Terry Francona has hinted at retiring at season's end. Could this playoff run with the Guardians be his last? Photo credit: Jason Miller/Getty Images
What to watch for
The Guardians being overwhelmed by the moment
To be frank, no one expected Cleveland to be here this season – this publication included. But, the Guardians are the AL Central champions and that alone should put some respect on Cleveland's name heading into the postseason. But, the playoffs are a different beast than the regular season and it could be a lot for this young Cleveland team to take in at first. Thankfully, they have dealt with pressure all season long and rose to the top because of it. Hopefully, that continues on Friday afternoon.
No place like dome?
Part of the reason the Rays are on such a serious slide as of late is that they haven't played at home in their last nine games of the season. That'll continue during the AL Wild Card against Cleveland and could continue again if they get past the Guardians and face the Yankees. Factor that in along with the forecast for this weekend predicting colder weather and Tampa Bay could be out of its element.
Over a month ago, Guardians skipper Terry Francona alluded that this season with Cleveland may be his last overall managing a club to The Athletic. Francona has been with the club since 2013 but has said that every season is getting harder for him physically.
“No. It’s getting harder. Physically, it’s getting harder… I want to enjoy what I’m doing. It’s getting harder to do that, just because physically it’s harder. I just want to be careful. And at the same time, I want to be fair to the team.”
He's dealt with multiple health issues and estimates that he’s had 45 surgeries, with more to come after the season draws to a close. This could be Francona's last run ever in the MLB and it could give extra motivation for this young Guardians squad to send him out with a bang.
Final series prediction: Cleveland 2, Tampa Bay 0
Featured image credit: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Evan Dammarell is a sports journalist covering all things Cleveland right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You can also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can also be found three to five times a week on Locked On Cavs, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network.
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