Last week, Right Down Euclid broke down how the newly-formatted MLB Playoffs would work and who the Cleveland Guardians could face in the first round. At the time, that all hinged on whether or not the Guardians would clinch the AL Central, something that seemed improbable at the beginning of the season. But, now it feels more likely for the Guardians in their latest series against the Chicago White Sox.
Heading into the series, the magic number for the Guardians to clinch the American League Central Division and a spot in the 2022 MLB postseason dropped to 12 Monday afternoon with their 11-4 win over the Minnesota Twins. Cleveland’s division lead over Chicago moved to 4 games with 15 to play. Any combination of Guardians wins or losses by the second-place White Sox that is greater than or equal to 12 will clinch the club’s first division title since 2018.
Prior to Tuesday night, a win in any of their next three games against the White Sox would give the Guardians the season series between the two clubs, and thus the head-to-head tiebreaker should they finish with identical records. That would further reduce the magic number by one based on that single victory because Chicago would have to finish one game better than Cleveland in order to claim the division crown. If the Guardians win at least one game in Chicago and then play .500 over their final 12 games, the White Sox would have to finish 10-2 in their final 12 games in order to overtake them.
With that said, if the playoffs were to start today, Cleveland would host the Seattle Mariners in the first round. If the Guardians want to make a serious postseason run, avoiding the Mariners would be a great place to start things. Thankfully, the postseason doesn't start today and there is still time for either of the Toronto Blue Jays or Tampa Bay Rays, the preferred opponents, to fall to Cleveland.
Not much has changed in the quality of opponents the Guardians may face. That much has been set in stone for a bit now. Instead, today, Right Down Euclid will give Cleveland fans a guide for the remaining schedule of all three teams and who they should be rooting for if there's a preferred matchup out there.
But, before we get started, a quick housekeeping note. Over the weekend, I participated in the ninth-ever VeloSano, which is Cleveland Clinic’s premier fundraising initiative in which 100% of every dollar raised supports lifesaving cancer research at Cleveland Clinic and Cleveland Clinic Children’s. Thanks to your support, I was able to shave off nearly 30 minutes from my time last year. But, we're still a little short of the initial goal overall. Thankfully, you still have until October 1 to donate if you're able!
Here is a direct link to my fundraiser page. With every dollar donated we may not be able to eradicate cancer tomorrow but, we'll be one step closer to ending it for good. Thank you for your support!
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Seattle Mariners, 81-65
- Remaining games: 15
- Opponents with a record above .500: 0
- Who to root for: Seattle
Seattle is a bit of an interesting case where they control their own destiny at this point in the season. The remaining teams they play on their schedule have zero playoff aspirations and that can work in Cleveland's favor. If those teams start to pack it in against the Mariners, it will force them to climb up the Wild Card ladder and avoid a clear path to play the Guardians until the ALCS.
But, the issue with that is that there's a lot of uncertainty surrounding baseball to begin with. Seattle has already dropped a game in their ongoing series against the Oakland A's, a team they should be expected to beat. Obviously, you can assume that for the remainder of their schedule as well and there's a chance they won't go unblemished down the stretch of the season. Again, the Mariners control their own destiny at this point and could always look to slide a bit to draw the Guardians in the first round instead of the New York Yankees.
It's definitely something worth watching for but try and maybe hire someone to undo the curse of Julio Rodriguez.
Tampa Bay Rays, 82-65
- Games remaining: 14
- Opponents with a record above .500: 3
- Who to root for: Cleveland, Toronto (if you'd prefer Tampa Bay), Houston
Of the possible teams the Guardians could face, the Rays seem like the most likely candidate. Tampa Bay has already dropped two games to the Houston Astros this week and still has a series against them, and Cleveland, both still on the remainder of their schedule.
The most interesting series of all to watch in all of this is the upcoming one against Toronto. If the Rays are able to win that series, it's likely that the Blue Jays are the team the Guardians would host in the first round. Clearly, the opposite can be said as well if Toronto is able to defeat their once-future Canadian compatriots.
Unlike with what happens with the Blue Jays and the Mariners, the Guardians do have some say in what happens playoff-wise for the Rays. Cleveland and Tampa Bay have only completed one series this season, which the Guardians won 2-1. They'll have their second, and final, series in Cleveland early next week which could be an early preview of what to expect come playoff time.
Toronto Blue Jays, 83-64
- Games remaining: 14
- Opponents with a record above .500: 4
- Who to root for: Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore, Tampa Bay (If you'd prefer to face Toronto)
Finally, when it comes to Toronto, playing Cleveland would be a fun series for the baseball diehards. It could also be a way for the Guardians to rectify the NBA's mistake of choosing Scottie Barnes over Evan Mobley for NBA Rookie of the Year.
Of the three teams that could possibly face Cleveland in the opening of the playoffs, Toronto has the hardest remaining schedule. They have to play three series in a row against three possible playoff teams, including a Philadelphia Phillies squad that has the Milwaukee Brewers breathing down their neck.
To make things even more difficult, the Blue Jays close out the season against a Baltimore Orioles squad that is hoping to sneak into the playoffs as well. This could not be an issue for a Blue Jays squad that has looked strong in their last ten games. But, it's definitely worth watching.
Featured image credit: Cole Burston/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. Did you enjoy this edition of Right Down Euclid? You can get it in your inbox two to three times a week by subscribing here. All it takes is either your Facebook account or email address!