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Rays vs. Indians (Guardians?) Friday MLB odds: Nelson Cruz expected to make debut; SportsLine Projection Model gives Tampa Bay slight World Series boost

Trade acquisition Nelson Cruz is expected to make his Rays debut on Friday in Cleveland.
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The 2021 MLB Trade Deadline is next Friday, and the floodgates could open now that the first big deal was made: Twins designated hitter Nelson Cruz and was traded Thursday night to the Tampa Bay Rays. It is expected that Cruz will make his Rays debut Friday in Cleveland, which made its own news today in announcing its nickname starting in 2022 and going forward is Guardians – which has been met by a collective laugh across social media as most fans wanted Spiders. Tampa Bay is a short favorite on the MLB odds at William Hill Sportsbook.

Those of us who bet the Twins on Thursday wished we hadn't when it was announced about two hours before game time – when lineups were already published – that Cruz had been traded. Minnesota isn't contending and had no reason to keep the 41-year-old. He's hitting .294 with 19 homers, 50 RBIs and an OPS of .907 in 85 games this year.

Not counting the shortened 2020 campaign, Cruz had hit at least 37 homers in six straight seasons. He became the ninth player in major league history to hit 35 (or more) in at least six consecutive seasons. Since 2014, Cruz's 279 home runs are the most in the majors, ahead of Mike Trout (248) and Nolan Arenado (243).

Cruz's 19 home runs are tied for second-most among designated hitters (only when playing that position) this season. Tampa Bay designated hitters have been a black hole, hitting a combined .222 with 13 homers and a .700 OPS, all bottom five in the American League. Tampa Bay also struggles against lefties overall, batting .226 as a team. Cruz is hitting .362 (38-for-105) with seven doubles, six home runs and a 1.010 OPS vs. lefties.

Austin Meadows had been Tampa Bay's primary DH and had the game-winning RBI single in the top of the 10th in Cleveland on Thursday -- but he can play the outfield and Cruz absolutely can't.

The SportsLine Projection Model (see below) had the Rays winning 92.5 games pre-Cruz and 92.8 after. Obviously, a lot of the season is already in the books. Tampa's chances of winning the AL East for the second straight year improved from 38.1 percent to 40.2 percent. The Rays are currently a game behind the Red Sox, with William Hill listing Boston at +100 to win the East and Tampa Bay +145. To win the franchise's first-ever World Series, the Rays improved from 11 percent to 11.2 percent.

Tonight's starting pitchers are lefty Josh Fleming (7-5, 3.93) for the Rays and Zach Plesac (5-3, 4.19) for Cleveland. It's quite possible that Fleming follows an opener, however. Cruz is 1-for-6 career off Plesac with a strikeout.

TAMPA BAY              WIN      WIN%        DIVISION      PLAYOFF     LCS            WS
Before 92.5 57.10% 38.10% 81.40% 19.90% 11.00%
w/ Nelson Cruz 92.8 57.30% 40.20% 82.20% 20.20% 11.20%
IMPACT 0.3 0.20% 2.10% 0.80% 0.30% 0.20%

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Matt SeveranceSeverance Pays