GAME 1: Today at 12:07 p.m. EST TV: ESPN
These are two of the most well-managed teams in baseball, which makes this one of the most intriguing series of the opening round. Of every team in the playoffs, these two hit the fewest home runs during the regular season. That said, they have the two lowest team ERAs of all teams participating in the Wild Card Round.
Despite the low ERAs, the biggest concern for the Rays should be their starting pitching, or more specifically, Shane McClanahan. While McClanahan was one of the best pitchers in baseball in the first half of 2022, he’s recorded a 4.20 ERA in 55.2 innings since the All-Star break. His strikeouts have decreased. His walks have increased, and his battle with a shoulder ailment that landed him on the injured list doesn’t give me any more confidence he’ll bounce back.
While the Guardians are one of the worst teams in the league against lefties, recording just a .645 OPS against southpaws this season — third-worst in MLB — I don’t trust McClanahan to carry the Rays to victory in his start right now, which is all the more important now that these are three-game series.
What gives Cleveland the edge in my opinion is its bullpen. Closer Emmanuel Clase (42 saves, 1.36 ERA), James Karinchak, Trevor Stephan, Sam Hentges, and Enyel De Los Santos are five of the best bullpen arms in the league. Offensively, the Rays struggle most in the late innings, recording just a .664 OPS in innings seven through nine. Against a bullpen as tough as Cleveland’s, that’s basically a death sentence late in games. Unless the Rays can get in front early in every game, they’ll have a tough time getting anything going, but considering how great Cleveland’s starting pitching has been and how hard home runs have come by for Tampa Bay, I wouldn’t hold my breath if I was a Rays fan.
Prediction: Cleveland wins 2-1