Headed to the playoffs for the 11th time in his managerial career, Guardians skipper Terry Francona knows what it takes to win a World Series, going the distance in two of his three trips to the Fall Classic. But before the Guardians can worry about that, they’ll have to get past their first-round opponent, the Tampa Bay Rays, who they beat four of six times during the regular season, though each of their victories came by three runs or fewer. Fortunately, the AL Central Champs will have the benefit of homefield advantage, hosting all three Wild Card games (if necessary) at Progressive Field.
Assuming they don’t make a pit stop in Tampa after Wednesday’s regular season finale, the Rays will have spent nearly two weeks living out of their suitcases, playing 11 straight road games (12 if a winner-take-all Game 3 is required) including visits to Boston, Houston and now Cleveland. Asked if he expects the Rays to be affected by their hectic travel schedule, Francona gave the following response.
We’d expect nothing less from Francona, whose deadpan sense of humor has made him among the most quotable managers in baseball. While being on the road that long certainly puts Tampa at risk of exhausting its underwear supply, there is a thing called laundry, plus, the Rays, though maybe not as financially equipped as others in MLB, can probably afford a trip to Macy’s for a new wardrobe, and some fresh drawers, should the need arise.
Of this year’s playoff qualifiers, the Rays have far and away the worst road record (35-45), a relative surprise given that Tampa’s home-field advantage was minimal, averaging a little under 14,000 fans per game at Tropicana Field (third-lowest in MLB). The Rays will attempt to buck that trend when they take the field for Friday’s playoff opener in Cleveland, with first pitch scheduled for 12:07 PM ET.