The Tampa Bay Rays return to the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.
This season, though, the Rays have battled injuries and limped into the playoffs with a five-game losing streak. The Rays finished the season with a 2-7 record and will head to Cleveland to take on the Guardians this weekend in a best-of-three wildcard series.
The Guardians started the season very slow but turned it on in the second half to win the division by eleven games over Chicago.
The Rays and Guardians were pretty evenly matched this season despite the Guardians winning the season series from the Rays winning 4/6.
Two of the three games were decided by one run, and two also went into extra innings.
The Rays made it to the World Series in 2020, losing to the LA Dodgers, and were defeated by Boston in the ALCS last season.
The Rays will be going up against the youngest team in baseball to earn a playoff berth in 2022.
Cleveland has not been a part of the postseason since the 2020 season when they swept in the wild card round by the New York Yankees.
The Guardians, like the Rays, are known more for their excellent young pitching than they are as offensive juggernauts.
The first two games of this series will feature four of the best young pitchers in baseball. Shane McClanahan and Tyler Glasnow will start for the Rays, while Shane Bieber and Tristan Mckenzie will pitch for the Guardians.
The Rays will carry 12 pitchers and 14 position players.
When asked what Kevin Cash told his players after getting swept by Boston to end the season, Cash said he told the club, “We can stop sucking, now let’s find ways to win games.”
Two big questions for the Rays going into the postseason, Can the Rays make a World Series run with great pitching and a less-than-stellar offense?
Offensively, the Rays have to find a way to manufacture runs. They are much better in low-scoring games and will never win a slugging contest. But you will need to score more than one or two runs a game if you hope to make a deep playoff run.
The Rays are the healthiest they have been all season offensively. I don’t count Kevin Keirmaier and Mike Zunino, as they were on the IL for most of the season.
The key offensively will be Randy Arozarena. As Arozarena goes, so goes the Ray’s offense. Arozarena leads the Rays in several offensive categories, including home runs, RBI, and hits.
The Rays need Arozarena to regain that playoff magic of 2020.
Shane McClanahan was the ace of the Rays staff this season and was in contention for the AL Cy Young Award until arm problems surfaced in September, and he spent some time on the IL.
McClanahan got a taste of the postseason in 2021 and pitched five shutout innings in his first outing. Unfortunately, his second outing was one he would like to forget, as he gave up five runs in a 6-5 season-ending loss.
McClanahan has learned from that experience. “It really motivated me,” McClanahan said on Thursday. “It fueled me during the offseason to keep working hard and try and develop more as a pitcher, as a player, and as a person. I think I’ve made those adjustments.”
The Rays are getting last season’ ace back for the playoffs in Tyler Glasnow. Although he will be limited, anytime you can put a pitcher on the mound like Glasnow, who comes close to hitting triple digits on the radar gun, that is a huge advantage.
Glasnow has made two starts for the Rays, a total of six innings. He walked two, struck out ten, and has a 1.35 ERA.
Glasnow may be the difference-maker for the Rays in this series.
Cleveland had a good record at Progressive Field, going 46-35, while the Rays struggled on the road, going 35-46.
Will this moment be too big for the young Guardians?
The Ray’s previous playoff experience will help them in this series. This Rays team underachieved all season, despite the injuries.
The Guardians are one of the youngest teams in baseball, and this moment may be a bit much for them.
This series will go three games, with the Rays winning to move on and face the New York Yankees in the ALDS.