Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Rays and Indians go to Battle with Young Guns

Alex Cobb looks to get the Rays into the
ALDS against the Red Sox.
Photo courtesy of Keith Allison
Just two days after winning their way into the postseason, the Tampa Bay Rays find themselves in a familiar situation--win or go home. This time, they face the upstart Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field in the American League Wild Card game Wednesday night.

The Rays will have soon to be 26-year-old Alex Cobb (11-3, 2.76 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 143.1 innings) on the hill hoping to push his team into the division series against AL East rival Boston. The Indians counter with dazzling 23-year-old rookie Danny Salazar (3-2, 3.12 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 10 starts covering 52 innings).

There will be two different approaches in getting outs from these pitchers. Cobb induces groundball outs almost twice as often as fly outs while Salazar is at the other extreme, but also has averaged 11.25 strikeouts per nine innings since arriving in Cleveland.

The Rays will lean on third baseman Evan Longoria and rookie outfielder Wil Myers for offense which has been off and on for the Rays all season. Longoria put up good numbers in 2013, hitting .269/.343/.498 with 32 HR and 88 RBI, both by far team highs. Myers had a strong entrance into the big leagues recording an .831 OPS with 13 HR and 53 RBI in 368 plate appearances. The team ranked ninth in the American League in runs scored and sixth in OPS just ahead of the Indians.

Cleveland ranked tied for fourth in runs scored led by C/1B/DH Carlos Santana (.268/.377/.455 with 20 HR and 74 RBI). Jason Kipnischipped with an OPS of .818 and led the team with 86 runs and 84 RBI.

The Rays finished the regular season winning 8 of their last 10 including Monday’s victory over the Rangers. Prior to the streak the Rays were in danger of losing their wild card position as they slumped in the early part of September.

The Indians won 10 straight to finish up the regular season and went 21-6 in September to storm into the postseason. The Indians play well at home, going 51-30 at Progressive Field, while the Rays were an even 41-41 on the road.

The game features two of baseball's better managers in the Rays’ Joe Maddon and Cleveland’s Terry Francona, who is in his first season at the helm of the Tribe. The game could come down to a late managerial decision as the teams are pretty evenly matched. The Rays won the season series, 4-2, outscoring the Indians 30-23.

I expect some nerves with both the starters and see both team’s bullpens take center stage. I think the Rays are a bit stronger in this department and some Longoria magic will send the Rays to the ALDS.