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AL Wildcard Preview: Rays vs. Indians

Tribe will look to keep their momentum alive in one-game wild card showdown

AL Wildcard Preview: Rays vs. Indians
October 2, 2013
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It might as well be Game 7 of a playoff series.

Matched up for the first time since June 2, Cleveland (92-70) will battle the Tampa Bay Rays (92-71) in a one-game wild card playoff Wednesday night at Progressive Field.

The winner goes on to play the Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series, while the loser ends their quest for baseball glory by packing their bags for another grueling offseason.

For the Indians, you could say their road to the postseason has simply been a roller coaster ride of all sorts, ending the regular season on a high with a franchise record 10 game winning streak. Having lost 94 games just one year ago, first year manager Terry Francona has led his bunch into October for the first time since 2007. They did it with one of the best months of September in baseball history, going 21-6 to grab the top A.L. wild card seed.

It marked the first time Cleveland won 20 games in a month since they did it twice in 1995, when the team went to the World Series. Looking to advance to their first ALDS appearance in six years, the team will use their home of Progressive Field as an advantage, hoping to bring the electric magic back to the ballpark like it was in the 90s.

Unlike their opposition, Tampa Bay is no newcomer when it comes to October baseball, as they have been a part of the postseason four of the last six years going to the World Series in 2008. Having won at least 90 games in four consecutive seasons, the Rays will once again rely on their experience playing beyond the regular season this time around.

They defeated the Texas Rangers Monday in a tiebreaker game to advance to the wild card showdown solely on the arm of 2012 A.L. Cy Young Award winner David Price. The left-hander allowed just two runs on seven hits in a complete game effort, closing out Game No. 163 with his tenth victory.

Luckly for Cleveland, they will not have to solve the Rays ace on Wednesday, but rather a 25-year old good looking pitching product who has been givien high praise all across Major League Baseball.

The Tribe is 2-4 overall against Tampa Bay this season, having lost two out of three in two different series.

Pitching matchup

RHP Alex Cobb (11-3, 2.76 ERA) vs. RHP Danny Salazar (2-3, 3.12 ERA) at 8:07 p.m.

Cobb gets the job

Arguably the most effective Rays starter to date, the young right-hander will look to stop a red hot Cleveland offense that has averaged 5.7 runs per game and a .286 average over their 10 game winning streak.

Hit in the head with a line drive back on June 15 against the Kansas City Royals, Cobb missed two months of the 2013 regular season before coming back stronger as a fixture in the rotation. Since returning from the injury, Cobb is 5-1 with a 2.41 ERA over his last nine starts, allowing just 46 hits (22 BB / 58 SO) in 59 2/3 innings.

He last faced the Indians on April 6, when he scattered four hits through a scoreless 7 1/3 innings for his first victory of the season. Having allowed more than four runs in just one of his 22 starts, all three of Cobb's losses have come on the road. Something certainly that benefits and generates some optimism for the Tribe faithful.

His windup delivery almost resembles that of Nationals starter Dan Haren, in that Cobb pauses for a brief second with his leg in the air before delivering a pitch.

Vs. LH (2.67 ERA--9 home runs)

Vs. RH (2.91 ERA--3 home runs)

Tribe hitters vs. Cobb (career totals)

Santana .429 (3-for-7) with a 2B (1 BB / 2 SO)

Raburn .375 (3-for-8) with a RBI (1 BB / 2 SO)

Chisenhall .333 (1-for-3)

Swisher .300 (3-for-10) with a 2B and RBI (2 BB / 5 SO)

Cabrera .250 (2-for-8) with a run scored (2 SO)

Kipnis .167 (1-for-6) with a 2B and RBI (2 BB / 1 SO)

Bourn .143 (1-for-7)

Brantley .000 (0-for-5)

Aviles .000 (0-for-7)

Gomes (Never faced)

Giambi (Never faced)

Stubbs (Never faced)

The Key: Jumping on the Tampa starter early is the key for Indians hitters, as Cobb has surrendered 25 of his 44 earned runs over the first three innings (11 runs in the first).

Salazar hopes to go far

Unlike the Indians and Cobb, Tampa has never faced Salazar before which may boast a problem for Rays hitters Wednesday night.

Signed as an International free agent in 2008, the story of the 23-year old Salazar is a good one. Here's a guy that was coming off Tommy John surgery just a few years ago, starting this season at Double-A Akron. And yet, here he is, pitching in the most meaningful game in Cleveland in over a half decade.

The hard-throwing righty has not allowed more than four runs through his first 10 big league starts, and his 65 strikeouts over that same span are the most by a Tribe pitcher in 57 years. Salazar's two wins have come at Progressive Field, where he is an undefeated 2-0 with a 3.13 ERA in four starts.

Facing a Rays team that has more right-handed hitters throughout the lineup may present the Tribe rookie with some problems, as Salazar has dominated lefties more than righties.

Vs. LH (1.65 ERA--1 home run)

Vs. RH (4.74 ERA--6 home runs)

The Key: Forget about a pitch count, and focus on pounding the strike zone with his 95+ MPH fastball. The key though is to use all of his pitches and when throwing his fastball to locate it effectively. Four of Salazar's seven home runs he’s allowed have come within a batter's first two pitches.

Rays player to watch: Evan Longoria

The three-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner has been the Rays MVP on offense once again this year, finishing the season hitting .269 with 32 homers and 89 RBI. He also brings with him a great pedigree of postseason experience, belting eight home runs and collecting 18 RBI in 25 career playoff games.

If there is one guy you don't want to have beat you, it's Longoria who has virtually seemed to always get himself caught up in being one of the most clutch players in October.

Indians player to watch: Nick Swisher

Not only is Swisher the player to watch with the most career at-bats against Cobb, but because of his postseason experience (or lack thereof).

In six playoff appearances in his career, the switch-hitter has struggled to do much of anything offensively in the postseason batting .169 (26-for-154) with nine doubles, four homers and eight RBI. Swisher does bring with him a World Series title which he won in 2009, but it should be interesting how he fairs in October in his first year with Cleveland.

Since August 16, Swisher has hit .281 with seven doubles, 10 homers and 26 RBI over his last 40 games. If there is a player to generate a buzz in the 216 early, it’s Swish.

Here are the total offensive numbers of both teams in 2013:

Rays (163 games)

.257 AVG  5538 AB  700 R  1421 H  296 2B  23 3B  165 HR  670 RBI  73 SB  589 BB  1171 SO  .329 OBP

Indians (162 games)

.255 AVG  5465 AB  745 R  1391 H  290 2B  23 3B  171 HR  711 RBI  117 SB  562 BB  1283 SO  .327 OBP

On paper, both offenses look very similar in terms of overall average, doubles, triples, homers and on-base percentage. Neither team also does not have a player with an average above .300 or has collected 90 RBI. 

The main difference for both clubs may be that the Rays strikeout a lot less while the Tribe runs and steals bases a lot more. In a one-game playoff, I don't think you could matchup two closer offenses.

Both bullpens well rested

Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon did not have to use any relievers in Monday's tiebreaker game, so all the Rays relievers including closer Fernando Rodney will be available to pitch against Cleveland.

Indians relievers have also gotten rest with their final regular season game being this past Sunday, so look for Francona to try and go for matchups late in the game. Besides having usual bullpen suspects Bryan ShawCody Allen and Joe Smith ready to go, it wouldn't surprise me at all to see Justin Masterson piggyback Salazar after he leaves the ballgame.

I could realistically see Francona go to Masty as early as the seventh and let him close out the game in the ninth. Even though he may not be starting, Masterson continues to be the most valuable pitching weapon the team has in their arsenal. 

Quick hits:

Indians are…

  • 75-17 when scoring four runs or more
  • 68-24 when scoring first
  • 66-34 when hitting at least one home run

So, has “next year” finally arrived?

Prediction:

Home field advantage prevails: Cleveland wins, 5-3.

**All Tribe fans attending the sold out wild card game are encouraged to wear red**

Follow Jim on Twitter @JBirdman27 or he can be reached via email at jberdysz27@gmail.com.

User Comments

Hermie13
October 2, 2013 - 3:35 PM EDT
Could see Masterson in the 5th and 6th...but I wouldn't mind seeing him in the 8th and 9th!

Salazar goes 4. Shaw the 5th, Allen the 6th, Smith the 7th....Scrabble and Kaz used as needed vs lefties...
Tony
October 2, 2013 - 3:08 PM EDT
This game is all about the starting pitchers tonight. Two young pitchers who are the #3 guys on their staff, but are coming into their own as potential aces down the road. It is of utmost important for Salazar to come out strong and in control and avoid falling behind early. It would also help if the offense could scratch out a run or two early.

I really think that if the game is close and Salazar gets into any trouble that Francona will have no problem going to Masterson for two-three innings in the 4th/5th/6th. Could also go with Kazmir or Kluber as well, but the situation would have to be different.
dadnjake
October 2, 2013 - 2:56 PM EDT
Maybe its taboo to suggest this matters but a wise man once told me never to bet on an NFL team playing its third straight road game.

Does anyone think it even marginally helps the Tribe that their opponent is playing the eighth game in nine days on the road in their fourth city?

Tribe behind a ricking crowd!
Robert
October 2, 2013 - 1:37 PM EDT
The Rays put a lot of pressure on Texas by being aggressive out the gate and taking the early lead. The Indians seem to be a completely different team when they strike early, so IMO this will be key, can the tribe hitters put up good at bats and hit the ball hard with a few doubles and maybe a homer or two in the first few innings, and score four or five by the 3rd or 4th inning? The other key is Salazar managing his pitch count by getting some easy outs, while keeping the ball in the park. As noted, homers on early pitches have hurt him this year, and especially dangerous is Longoria, as he's real hot right now.

Go Tribe!
HWY 59
October 2, 2013 - 11:58 AM EDT
GO TRIBE!!! ALL THE WAY FROM EAST TEXAS BABY!!!
Rick
October 2, 2013 - 11:21 AM EDT
...'four of Salazar's seven home runs...come within a batter's first two pitches'...

I also recall, besides the brazen rookie who pushed the envelope giving up a late one to Miggy C after 3 prior punch outs, he gave up a few to teams seeing him the 2nd time around.

Look for the Rays to come aggressive. Can our stud hit his spots and live outside the zone to put people away?

You bet. Getting a scouting report and then handling a stud are two very different things.

I'm with camfrommaine41. The offense will to get to Cobb and allow the sold out fans to Rock the game. Oh.. and when you get on base, don't screw the pooch like Texas and get picked off...TWICE!

We put up 3 early & mad man Madden will pull Cobby in a blink.
This Tribe team can double the 3 or better on this bull pen.

And tell me you wouldn't take Masterson over Rodney to close out? The last time on the Mound Fernando almost pitched them out of the playoffs a'la Perez.

No way Tito gets left at the alter with a chance to go back to Beantown with this lunch bucket team of miracle-workers!

Go Tribe.
camfrommaine41
October 2, 2013 - 10:29 AM EDT
if two of those 3 guys homer the tribe is putting up at least 7 runs

Salazar can get 10 k in 6 innings
and masterson can close out the game

I love this team
camfrommaine41
October 2, 2013 - 10:26 AM EDT
rocking tribe gear in maine rooting for my goooooonies off the bench , the mafia out the pen! and the Cleveland 9 taking it to the house rocking the prog! as hard as they rock the rays pitchers! TRIBE wins 5-3

I also see them winning by putting on a laser show which would be like 11-3 that's if Santana, Kipnis, or swisher HR

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