ARLINGTON -- The Guardians knew they were looked at as underdogs coming into the year and have since used that as fuel to have the level of success they’ve experienced thus far.
Last weekend at Globe Life Field, the Guardians clinched their first division title since 2018 and are now able to start looking ahead to the best-of-three American League Wild Card Series against the Rays, which will begin at Progressive Field on Friday.
“I feel like when people count you out, it’s great to kind of shove it back in their face,” Guardians first baseman Josh Naylor said. “Those who have nothing to lose in life, those are the most dangerous people or teams. So I feel like we’re a dangerous team because everybody’s already counted us out, and we just continue to do what we do. We have fun and play the game the right way.”
What could the postseason roster look like?
C: Austin Hedges, Luke Maile, Bo Naylor
1B: Josh Naylor, Owen Miller
2B: Andrés Giménez
3B: José Ramírez
SS: Amed Rosario
OF: Steven Kwan, Myles Straw, Oscar Gonzalez, Will Benson, Will Brennan
UTL: Gabriel Arias
SP: Shane Bieber, Triston McKenzie, Cal Quantrill
RP: Emmanuel Clase, James Karinchak, Trevor Stephan, Sam Hentges, Nick Sandlin, Cody Morris, Enyel De Los Santos, Zach Plesac, Eli Morgan
How could the roster change?
The Guardians seem to have made most of the moves needed to put together an optimal postseason roster. Maybe the team would like to see Plesac work in relief on Tuesday or Wednesday before completely committing to moving him to the bullpen, but aside from that, this roster should be pretty much set.
Who is the first-round matchup?
The Guardians found out Tuesday night that they will host the Rays for the Wild Card Series.
Cleveland played Tampa Bay at the end of July and won two of the three games. At the time, the Guardians sat just three games above .500 and were grinding through a grueling part of their schedule that included four doubleheaders and an 11-game road trip. The team had a chance to preview what a series could be like against the Rays last week before knowing they'd be going head-to-head, as Tampa Bay visited Progressive Field for a three-game set. The Guardians took the series 2-1, including a win on an Amed Rosario walk-off hit.
What does the rotation look like for the Wild Card Series?
The rotation will only need to be three arms for the Wild Card Series, considering it’s a best-of-three matchup. It’s all but guaranteed that Shane Bieber will get the ball in Game 1. The Guardians reworked their plans for this upcoming week to have Bieber jump ahead of Triston McKenzie in the rotation. That will line him up to be ready to go for Game 1 on Friday. McKenzie is likely to follow in Game 2 on Saturday and Cal Quantrill should get the nod for Game 3 (if necessary) on Sunday.
Who is eligible for the postseason roster?
There are a lot of questions as to whether Brennan and Naylor could be on the postseason roster.
Everyone who has been in Cleveland’s organization since Aug. 31 and has been on either the 40-man roster or the injured list is automatically in the playoff eligibility pool. In this case, neither Brennan, ranked as the club's No. 20 prospect by MLB Pipeline, nor Naylor, ranked No. 5, was on the 40-man roster at that point.
The only other way a player can become eligible is if he is replacing an injured player and has been in the organization since at least Aug. 31. In this case, Brennan could replace someone such as Anthony Gose, who is out for the rest of the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
The Guardians are working through finding a way to also get the younger Naylor on the roster. Anyone who is on the 40-man roster and is physically unable to perform for the playoffs can be replaced. That means, a player who just wrapped up his Minor League season but is on the 40-man roster can be a candidate to be replaced. It appears as though Cleveland has at least one candidate for this situation for Naylor to work his way on the postseason roster.
What is Cleveland’s recent postseason history?
The Guardians clinched their first AL Central title since 2018 on Sunday afternoon. Since then, the team made the postseason once in '20 and lost in the AL Wild Card Series to the Yankees. The last time Cleveland won a postseason series was during its special run in '16. And not that fans need a reminder, Cleveland owns the longest World Series drought in the Majors, having gone since 1948 without a title.