Prediction, Preview, and Odds
#3911 Tampa Bay Rays vs.
#3912 Cleveland Indians
Thursday, July 22, 2021 at 7:10pm EDT
Written by Eric P.

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The Tampa Bay Rays take on the Cleveland Indians on Thursday night in the opening game of their four-game series from Progressive Field in Ohio. The weekend will be a battle of second-place teams but with the Rays in the driver's seat for a Wild Card spot, and the Indians chasing one of those two coveted spots, much can change come Sunday night. The two teams have already met three times this season, with Tampa Bay sweeping the three-game at home earlier this month. The combined score of the three games was 21-9 in favor of the Rays and the Indians will need to play much better to find success this weekend. With so much to play for in regards to both teams' outlook the rest of the way, expect Thursday to only be the start of a memorable weekend series.

Rays Looking To Replicate Success

Whatever the game plan was for the Rays when they met the Indians for the three-game series July 5-7, shouldn't be changed at all. The Rays were dominant at home in that series and would love to make it four-straight against on Thursday night with a win. The Rays have a healthy core of position players ready to go, but the pitching is a whole another story. Only Manuel Margot is expected to miss Thursday's game as the centerfielder deals with a hamstring injury. For the pitching staff though, the Rays will be without eight relievers on Thursday. For a team that has prided themselves on stringing together quality bullpen innings for their success, the plan has changed of late. Beyond just the relievers and Margot, the Rays are also missing two starting pitchers.

The Rays, who have relied on their pitching and defense for years, finally have an offense ready to contribute in a big way if they make the playoffs yet again. The Rays rank seventh in baseball in runs per game, even despite ranking 25th in batting average and 20th in hits per game. The Rays have one of the most balanced offenses, which will give the Indians issues from the top to the bottom of the order. Randy Arozarena leads the way with only a .256 average and 86 hits, while Brandon Lowe has 21 home runs, and Austin Meadows 65 RBI. The addition of Ji-Man Choi back into the lineup has helped add even more depth, and he and Lowe have paced the offense over the last week, both hitting over .300.

According to MLB.com, Luis Patino will get the ball as the staff tries to navigate their beaten-up staff. Patino sits at 1-2 on the season with a 4.87 ERA in only four starts so far on the year. He's struggled in his last two starts, allowing nine earned runs and eleven runs total in 8.2 total innings against the Orioles and Blue Jays. Patino will need to continue to adjust on the fly as a starter if he wants to keep Tampa Bay in games, starting on Thursday.

Indians Eyeing Wild Card Spot

While catching the Rays for the first Wild Card spot seems unlikely, the fight for the second Wild Card spot is definitely heating up. With a strong four-game set this weekend at home, the Indians could find themselves in a great position on Monday morning or could find themselves with hope lost if the Rays take care of business. The Indians' outfield has taken a beating, with Jordan Luplow, Josh Naylor, and Eddie Rosario, all remaining out. Much like their opponents, Cleveland's pitching staff is dealing with their own issues as well, with their top two starters remaining out.

The Indians' offense has struggled with some of their defections over the last few off seasons but still ranks 13th in home runs per game. The home run numbers have helped prop up the run numbers in general, ranking 17th in baseball in runs per game. The good news for Cleveland is that Jose Ramirez is still in town, and without him, the Indians would be in big trouble on Thursday night. He's taken a step back from the MVP-contending numbers of the last few seasons but still leads the team with 19 home runs, 52 RBI, and a .341 OBP. Amed Rosario leads in batting average and hits and has been a solid contributor up the middle defensively. Over the last week, Rosario is hitting .409, while Franmil Reyes and Bradley Zimmer each have two runs, showing the potential this offense still has.

According to MLB.com, Cal Quantrill will get the ball for the Indians. He sits at 2-2 with a 4.05 ERA on the year in nine starts. Starting the season operating out of the bullpen, Quantrill has appeared in 27 games total and has plenty of experience in a wide range of experiences, which should serve him well as he grows into the rotation.

Best Bets for this Game

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The Rays were dominant against the Indians when the two teams met earlier this month and while the Indians have only seen a few more key pieces added to the IL, the Rays have welcomed back some of their better hitters. The pitching is pretty even given the struggles and injuries that both teams are facing from that perspective. The Rays have much more depth from the top to the bottom of their batting order and with the Indians struggling on offense of late, the idea of matching what the Rays are able to do from a run perspective doesn't seem feasible. Expect the Rays offense to continue to click as they eye a fall run, and for Maddon to work his magic from a staff point of view as they keep the Indians at bay.

Prediction: Tampa Bay (-150)

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Both of the starting pitchers on Thursday night have spent time this season coming out of the bullpen and it could be quick starts for both of them depending on how the offenses do. The Indians have quite a bit of power between Reyes, Hernandez, and Ramirez, and will have ample opportunities to get some quick runs on the board with the long ball. For the Rays, everyone in their lineup is able to contribute and with the starters heating up with their batting of late, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the league's seventh-best scoring offense make life difficult for Cleveland in the opener. According to Winners and Whiners, for the Rays, the over is 4-0 in their last four road games against a tea with a winning home record, is 6-1 in their last seven Thursday games, and is 5-1 in their last six games overall. For the Indians, the over is 5-1 in both their last six games against AL East opponents and in their last six series openers.

Prediction: Over 9
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Written By Eric Ploch , "Eric P."

Eric grew up surrounded by sports, whether it was spending the weekend catching games in person or on tv, or heading out to the fields to play whatever sport was in season. What started as a hobby, soon became a passion, as he became the sports editor of his high school newspaper, then wrote for his university newspaper during his undergrad years.  After obtaining a degree in Sports Operations and Promotions, and spending 8 years deeply immersed in the sports world, Eric decided to take his love for analytics and predictions, and his experience, to online sports fans everywhere. We are glad to have Eric on OUR Team.