The Cleveland Guardians have not won a playoff game since 2017, but oddsmakers have the team favored to win this AL Wild Card Playoff Series against the Tampa Bay Rays that starts on Friday in Cleveland.
BetMGM has set the Game 1 odds at -120 for the Guardians, who face a Rays team that lost its final five games of the regular season.
Among the 12 teams in the postseason, at most sportsbooks the Guardians have the longest odds to win the World Series: as high as +3500 odds from BetMGM and Caesars.
Rays vs Guardians Game 1 Odds
Here are current Game 1 lines from various legal US sportsbooks.
The Cleveland franchise has the longest World Series champion drought in Major League Baseball. The last time the team won the Fall Classic came in 1948. The team most recently played in and lost the 2016 World Series.
The Guardians won 92 games and the American League Central title, overcoming +1000 preseason betting odds to finish first. The homefield advantage in a short series (best-of-three with all three games in Cleveland) seem to sway oddsmakers in favor of Cleveland.
Rays vs. Guardians Game 1 Pitching Matchup
Shane McClanahan (12-8, 2.54 ERA) vs. Shane Bieber (13-8, 2.88 ERA)
It’s The Battle of the Shanes!
The thin lefthander McClanahan, a former first-round pick, will toe the rubber for Tampa, who comes into this series lacking confidence following a 14-14 record in September and an 0-5 mark in October.
McClanahan made one start in the 2021 postseason, five shutout innings in a win over the Red Sox in Game 1 of the ALDS. He can touch 97 with his four-seam fastball, and McClanahan’s Whiff Percentage, according to Baseball Savant, is in the 94th percentile in MLB. Guardians batters may be swinging at air a lot on Friday. McClanahan has never faced Cleveland.
Bieber is one of the rare starters who will get into the seventh or even eighth inning. He reached 200 innings for the second time in his brief career in 2022. But manager Tito Francona has the luxury of letting the former Cy Young Award winner loose in Game 1. That’s because the bullpen will be ready to handle the last 3-4 innings. That means the Rays may see boosted velocity from the righthanded Bieber.
Most difficult for Tampa is the fact that Bieber is a control specialist: he posted a 5.5-to-1 K-to-BB ratio. The normally patient and pesky Rays lineup might find it hard to get on base in Game 1.
On Sept. 27, Bieber went six innings and allowed no walks while striking out six against Tampa Bay. In that game, the Cleveland ace allowed three extra-base hits in a four-run fourth inning.
Rays Looking to Flip Script from 2021 Postseason
Last October, the Rays were a 100-win team favored to beat the Red Sox in the ALDS with a series price of -170. Four games later, the Rays were packing for their offseason.
The 2022 Rays want to be the underdog who pulls an upset in a short series this time. Given the franchise’s penchant for pulling postseason heroes off the bench, it isn’t an outlandish idea.
The Rays defense, particularly its outfield speed led by Jose Siri, might be a key to cutting off hits and extra bases and help the Rays grab a crucial Game 1 win on the road. Siri is a player to watch. Just a week-and-a-half ago, he hit a two-run homer off Bieber in Cleveland.
But the Guardians have the superior team. They have a more efficient offense, run the bases better, field the ball slightly better, and have at least as good a pitching staff as Tampa.
Of concern for Cleveland fans is the second-half offensive slump, and the G’s only hit 50 homers in 81 home games. But home runs may not be the story in this wild-card series. These teams survive on getting on base and churning out runs. The Rays were fifth in the AL in walks. The Guardians had the fifth-best home record. The Rays bullpen had a 3.35 ERA, fourth-best in the league. But Cleveland’s 3.05 mark was third.
This series will be decided by which team’s bullpen holds onto a likely slim lead. Surprising? Well, no, that’s a recipe we’ve seen a lot in the MLB postseason in modern times.
These teams are remarkably similar in how they approach the game: field the ball well, keep walks to a minimum, try to foul off pitches, and patch together runs without much use of the home run. Cleveland’s just a little bit better at it.
Rays vs. Guardians Series Game 1 Prediction
We like the Guardians to win the opening game of this series. Never before has MLB used a three-game series format in a full, non-pandemic or non-strike season. That makes the first game almost a must-win. Find the cheapest moneyline on the favorite, and lay them with Cleveland. Per prices as of Thursday, you need to wager only $120 to win $100 from DraftKings or BetMGM.
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