The Cleveland Guardians are riding high at the right time of the regular season -- down the stretch and toward the playoffs.
Terry Francona's Guardians, who clinched the American League Central on Sunday, will host the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night to open a three-game series.
Since Franconabecame Cleveland's skipper in 2013, the franchise has won the Central on four occasions and has reached the playoffs in six of the 10 seasons.
Victorious in 18 of their past 21 games, the Guardians (86-67) have won seven straight contests -- their longest streak since June 2018 -- and had an incredible week to capture the top spot in the Central.
They went to Chicago and swept three games from the second-place White Sox, their closest competitor. Then they traveled to Texas and did the same to the Rangers during a trio of wins. All seven victories were by at least a two-run margin.
During the division-winning celebration Sunday, Francona said the tone was set right at the season's outset at Cleveland's spring training site in Goodyear, Ariz.
"The expectations were in our clubhouse," the 63-year-old Francona said. "These guys proved it out. It's not easy -- winning's hard. These guys should be so proud. This is organic. This is what happiness is."
Only two players -- Jose Ramirez and Shane Bieber -- on the current roster were on Cleveland's last division-winning team in 2018.
In his 30th start this season and sixth career start against the Rays, Bieber (12-8, 2.81 ERA) will look to improve upon a 2-2 record and a 2.67 ERA against them.
The Guardians won two of three games in St. Petersburg, Fla., at the end of July, but the Rays were triumphant in 12 of 14 games over the 2019 and 2021 seasons. They did not meet in the pandemic-affected 2020 campaign.
Currently, the Rays (84-69) hold the No. 2 spot in the wild-card standings -- two games behind the Toronto before the Blue Jays played Monday and just 1/2 game ahead of the Seattle Mariners.
Tampa Bay's remaining regular-season schedule will be challenging, as all nine games are on the road. In addition to Cleveland, manager Kevin Cash's squad will play three-game sets in Houston and Boston.
If his club should wind up in third in the wild-card race, Tampa Bay would open the postseason back in Cleveland.
"This is playoff baseball," reliever Brooks Raley said over the weekend after a loss to the Blue Jays. "We knew that coming into this month. You want to win these games and it hurts because you want to win. But it's not going to change anything about (the rest of the regular season). Come out here and play hard again."
Cash said Tyler Glasnow (Tommy John surgery rehab) will be activated and start Wednesday against the Central winners. The right-hander will be limited to roughly 45 pitches.
But on Tuesday, former Cleveland hurler Corey Kluber (10-9, 4.30), who won Cy Young Awards in 2014 and 2017 during his nine years with the franchise, will make his 30th start.
A three-time All-Star, Kluber is 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA in two career starts against his former team.
--Field Level Media