Best Bets for the American League Wild Card Round
The price for winning an AL Wild Card series is being an underdog against the Yankees or the Astros, but we still have four teams of interest for best-of-three series in the first year of the new postseason format. of the MLB.
The Rays and Guardians actually met in 2013, which was the second year of a wildcard’s “round” to a win-win game. That year, the Guardians missed the division title by one game before losing to the Rays. This year, they’re in the wildcard round as division champions and face the Rays in the No. 3 vs. No. 6 series.
The Blue Jays and Mariners meet in the No. 4 vs. No. 5 series. The teams have no playoff history with each other, in part because Seattle did not make the playoffs since 2001 and that Toronto has only four playoff appearances since winning the 1993 World Series.
Both series stand out for me in different ways, so let’s see what we can expect.
No. 6 Tampa Bay Rays (+110) vs. No. 3 Cleveland Guardians (-130)
DraftKings has the highest line in the market in Cleveland, as other stores are -125 or lower on champions AL Central. The SuperBook even opened -115, which I think is a fairer price. Tampa Bay at +110 is probably worth a small gamble.
However, my interest here is less in the price of a series and more in how to play each individual game. For me, this is the best draw either opponent could have asked for. Tampa Bay finished 30th in second-half home runs with 51 and Cleveland 28th with 56. The teams were both slightly below league average offensively. A huge difference between the teams is that Tampa Bay hits more than Cleveland, although the Rays also walk more than the Guardians.
The Guardians have two strengths that could tip the scales in this series. The first is that they are one of the best defensive teams in baseball. The second is that they have one of the best bullpen in the game. However, in a small sample, the Tampa Bay bullpen can perform extremely well and has been a quality unit over the season. The Rays have had plenty of bullpen injuries this season, with only three relievers having at least 48 appearances. The Guardians had six to reach that mark.
What piques my interest most is that it should be a very low-scoring environment. It’s getting cold in Cleveland, and Progressive Field is playing big when the ball isn’t carried. Unless we get a breeze blowing towards the lake rather than out of the lake, the trails should be hard to find.
Cleveland’s entire offensive profile hinges on not hitting and being able to go first-to-third on base. The Guardians had the second most stolen bases of any team in the second half, behind only the Diamondbacks. They make tracks like the teams used to do. However, when the playoffs roll around, teams face more pitchers at bat. Any increase in strikeouts makes it that much harder for Cleveland to score runs or be able to. Usually the offense is created via the long ball in the playoffs. Cleveland doesn’t hit those.
On the other hand, neither is Tampa Bay. I expect tight, stressful baseball, with this streak likely boiling down to a few key appearances in high-leverage situations. If I line up these totals, I’m looking at 6s and 6.5s instead of 7s.
When those teams played in Cleveland from September 27-29, the Guardians won twice by a score of 2-1. The other game ended 6-5, but it featured an early rain delay with both starters struggling when play resumed. It looks like Shane McClanahan vs. Shane Bieber in Game 1, Tyler Glasnow vs. Triston McKenzie in Game 2, and TBD (Jeffrey Springs/Corey Kluber/Drew Rasmussen) vs. Cal Quantrill in Game 3.
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