What you need to know about the Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Tampa Bay Rays AL Wild Card Series

Cleveland Cavaliers manager Terry Francona reacts during the first inning of a baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays Friday, July 29, 2022, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

Maybe it was karma. Maybe it was youthful enthusiasm. Maybe he was a wily veteran manager. Perhaps it was the bad luck of the teams that were favored to win the American League Final Championship. Whatever combination of any of those things and more it took, the Guardians are in the playoffs as champs of the AL Central.

In their first season as the Guardians instead of a seemingly cursed franchise dragging on the baggage of Chief Wahoo and the pressure of a name change, everything suddenly clicked into place. Karma? Maybe. Maybe not. But here are the Guardians in a year where at least 17 players made their major league debuts.

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Many of those players, from Rookie of the Year candidate Steven Kwan to fellow outfielders Oscar Gonzalez, Will Benson and Will Brennan to Bo Naylor (No. 17) and pitchers Cody Morris and Kirk McCarty will continue to play major roles in the postseason. , which begins Friday at Progressive Field in Game 1 of the Wild Card Series against the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Guardians were among the hottest teams, if not the hottest team, in baseball during the crucial month of September and left preseason favorites the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins in the dust on their way to the title division was clinched with nine games remaining. in the season.

Manager Terry Francona has to be at least the co-favorite for American League Manager of the Year after guiding a team that put the youngest roster in baseball through all the landmines that come with a team as young as who will make the most of his The guardians’ team did not give much chance to raise a divisional flag in 2022, outside the organization.

The young players listened to Francona’s wisdom, trusted their talents and exploded in the big leagues, helping a team led by veterans Jose Ramirez, Josh Naylor, Amed Rosario, Shane Bieber and Emmanuel Clase find the stars.

They seemed unfazed by the pressure of a playoff push and now they will get to see how they can handle the pressure of a playoff series, or more.

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The Guardians came into the season believing that the team’s strength was the frontcourt. Former Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber anchored a rotation that included rising star Triston McKenzie, steady and reliable right-handers Cal Quantrill and Aaron Civale and the talented but inconsistent Zach Plesac.

But Bieber struggled to replicate his Cy Young dominance, McKenzie and Quantrill took a while to recover and Civale and Plesac struggled with performance and injuries.

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So, instead of being on the cutting edge, the pitching staff was picked by a young team that seemingly overachieved every time and a bullpen that eventually went from very good to possibly the best in baseball. argued, as the season progressed.

Along the way, Bieber found his form and was like an ace, McKenzie developed into No. 2 more than solid and Quantrill established himself as the clear No. the ball rolling.

Plesac is also back, but is expected to be out of the bullpen in the playoffs.

A new style of attack for the Cleveland Guardians

Kwan burst onto the scene at the start of his major league career, fell into some expected rookie struggles and then established himself as not only a serviceable offensive player but someone who could be trusted to close when which Myles Straw fell apart and was. bumped to No. 9 in the order.

Kwan rarely strikes out and hits the ball to all fields. He can run and is an above average left fielder. His emergence was a big boost for a team led by Ramirez, a perennial MVP candidate who had another big year. But it was the offensive production of second baseman Andres Gimenez and shortstop Rosario, both acquired from the New York Mets in the Francisco Lindor trade, that helped transform the Guardians into a dangerous offensive team despite a general lack of power. Gimenez was among the league’s most valuable players based on fWAR and Rosario provided the Guardians with a consistent offensive presence all season.

When Josh Naylor returned to health, first baseman Josh Naylor added another reliable bat and suddenly the Guardians were a team that was never out of the game and eager for late rallies. Gonzalez was called up in May and made an immediate impact with a high batting average and eventually added some power as well. Benson and Brennan came next and achieved varying degrees but were capable contributors.

A dominant bullpen completes the picture for the Cleveland Cavaliers

Clase came to Cleveland in the Corey Kluber trade with the Texas Rangers, missed the entire 2020 season with a drug suspension and worked his way into the closer’s role in 2021. In 2022, he worked his way to the top of the league among closers. , using a 101-mph cutter that turned bats to sawdust.

Not only was Clase nearly impossible, James Karinchak returned from injury in the second half of the season and was on fire as a setup man and sometimes closer. Trevor Stephan, Sam Hentges and Nick Sandlin helped take the lead after the sixth inning was safe and Eli Morgan and Enyel De Los Santos also had outstanding performances.

MLB’s new postseason format

Major League Baseball added a third wild card playoff team to each league for 2022 and then provided a bye to the top two teams in each league. In the American League, that is the East Division champion, New York Yankees, and the West Division champion Houston Astros.

There was another change in the Wild Card Series. Previously a series of one-game series, the new format turned the Wild Card Series into a three-game series with the top-seeded team hosting all three games.

That puts Guardians No. 3 (as a result of winning their division) at home for a best of three against the No. 6 Tampa Bay Rays, starting with Game 1 on Friday. Game 2 will be Saturday and Game 3, if necessary, will be Sunday, all at Progressive Field.

If the Rangers win, they will play the Yankees in a best-of-five Division Series starting in New York on October 11.

Tampa Bay Rays' Wander Franco watches his two-run double off Toronto Blue Jays reliever Trevor Richards during the fourth inning of a baseball game Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022, in St.  Petersburg, Fla.  (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Tampa Bay Rays’ Wander Franco watches his two-run double off Toronto Blue Jays reliever Trevor Richards during the fourth inning of a baseball game Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

What is known about the Tampa Bay Rays

Managed by former Francona bench coach Kevin Cash, the Rays are no strangers to the postseason. The Rays have made the playoffs for four consecutive seasons and reached the World Series in 2020, losing to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Rays are led by freshman shortstop Wander Franco, 2020 playoff hero Randy Arozarena and former Cleveland third baseman Yandy Diaz.

Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Shane McClanahan throws against the Houston Astros during the first inning of a baseball game Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, in Houston.  (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Shane McClanahan throws against the Houston Astros during the first inning of a baseball game Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Pitching is the strength of the Rays, led by Cy Young Award candidate Shane McClanahan, former Cleveland ace Corey Kluber, hard-throwing lefty Jeffrey Springs and former ace Tyler Glasnow, who recently returned from Tommy John surgery.

Guardians first baseman Josh Naylor (center) celebrates his game-winning two-run home run in the 10th inning against the Minnesota Twins, June 29, 2022, in Cleveland

Guardians first baseman Josh Naylor (center) celebrates his game-winning two-run home run in the 10th inning against the Minnesota Twins, June 29, 2022, in Cleveland

How to watch the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Wild Card Series

Game 1: 12:07 pm Friday, ESPN

Game 2: 12:07 pm Saturday, ESPN

Game 3: 4:07 pm or 7 pm Sunday (if necessary), ESPN

This article originally appeared on the Akron Beacon Journal: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Tampa Bay Rays What do you know

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