AL Wild Card Preview: Rays vs Guardians Series Odds

Two Elite Pitching Staffs Face Off

The 2022 MLB postseason kicks off early Friday afternoon with a fantastic matchup between the No. 3 AL Wild Card team in the Tampa Bay Rays and the (surprising) AL Central champion Cleveland Guardians. After a magical season in which Cleveland defied all expectations to win the division for the first time since 2018, the Guardians comfortably outpaced the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins and won 92 games. Their reward is a battle with the Rays, who underperformed this year but withstood a cavalcade of injuries. The Rays vs Guardians series odds have Cleveland as slight favorites.

Neither Tampa Bay nor Cleveland dominated the American League standings 2022 but the Rays were able to stay afloat in a tough AL East — and competitive Wild Card race — while the Guardians stuck around in the mediocre AL Central, only to firmly take control of the division in early August and never look back. These teams were middling in terms of offense but each was in the top-10 in the Majors in team ERA while featuring tons of high-end arms.

 

Game Information

 

Two Electric Starting Matchups

Tampa Bay and Cleveland only have their respective first two starters set in stone, with Game 1 being a battle of the Shanes between the Rays’ Shane McClanahan and the Guardians’ Shane Bieber while Game 2 features Tyler Glasnow going for Kevin Cash’s team and Triston McKenzie pitching for Terry Francona’s squad.

McClanahan was one of the best starters in baseball this season and made his first All-Star team. Bieber was also really good, pitching to a solid 2.88 ERA over exactly 200 innings. He isn’t as much of a strikeout threat as McClanahan but he doesn’t need to be, as he doesn’t walk anyone (1.6 walks per 9 innings) and allows few home runs. Accordingly, the MLB betting odds have Cleveland as a slight favorite, mostly because the Guardians are at home and get on base much more than the Rays do.

The Game 2 matchup might favor Tampa Bay a little more with the dynamic (but injury-prone) Glasnow on the bump against the super-talented McKenzie, who will be making his first career postseason start. It’s a very interesting duo because Glasnow only pitched 6 2/3 innings during the regular season after coming back from Tommy John surgery while McKenzie tossed a career-high 191 1/3 frames, blowing past his previous high water mark. He was great all season for Cleveland but there is certainly some concern about McKenzie hitting a wall.

It’s a very interesting duo because Glasnow only pitched 6 2/3 innings during the regular season after coming back from Tommy John surgery while McKenzie tossed a career-high 191 1/3 frames, blowing past his previous high water mark.

This game might be the most critical for Rays vs Guardians series odds as there’s a lot of variability for each starter.

 

Can Tampa Bay Rein In Ramirez?

It’s obvious that the Guardians’ offense revolves around José Ramirez, who had another monster season at the plate. He drove in 47 more runs than anyone else on his team, highlighting just how critical his production is for Cleveland pushing guys across the plate. He certainly isn’t out there by himself — Andrés Giménez, Josh Naylor and Steven Kwan were all at least 20% better than the league average in terms of hitting — but, at the end of the day, Ramirez is the guy who makes the Guardians’ a formidable all-around opponent.

So, the clear key for the Tampa Bay pitching staff is to limit how much damage Ramirez is able to do. Of course, that means the Rays might pitch around him and force guys like Giménez, Naylor and rookies Oscar Gonzalez and Will Brennan to step up. That’s the best course of action considering how proficient a run producer Ramirez is and how limited the Cleveland lineup is. Those secondary players will be critical for the Guardians.

 

Rays Have Trouble Scoring

If Cleveland is not the most intimidating offensive team, then Tampa Bay is even worse. The Guardians were seventh in the Majors in batting average and third in steals during the regular season while the Rays were 17th and 11th in those categories, respectively. Tampa Bay scored the 21st most runs in baseball and had the 25th best OPS. Those aren’t exactly the kinds of numbers you want to put up if you’re looking to make a postseason run.

For sure, injuries have zapped Tampa Bay of a decent amount of its offensive firepower and Brandon Lowe still being out with back discomfort doesn’t help. But, outside of Yandy Díaz and Randy Arozarena — and maybe Harold Ramirez — no one on the Rays has really stood out even when healthy. Wander Franco has been a little disappointing in an injury shortened campaign, Isaac Paredes has shown serious pop but might not be a postseason starter and Manuel Margot has had a solid year at the plate, yet those guys (along with Ji-Man Choi) represent basically all of Tampa Bay’s offensive production.

If the Rays want to buck the Rays vs Guardians series odds against Cleveland’s elite pitching staff, guys like Franco and Paredes and Margot need to step up. Franco is the wild card as he’s one of baseball’s top young talents who just hasn’t been as good in his sophomore campaign.

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