AL Wild Card Game Preview: Tampa Bay Rays at Cleveland Indians

Sep 30, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher David Price (middle) is welcomed back to the dugout after retiring the Texas Rangers during the eighth inning at Rangers Ballpark at Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 30, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher David Price (middle) is welcomed back to the dugout after retiring the Texas Rangers during the eighth inning at Rangers Ballpark at Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Once again in the American League, it comes down to one game, a feeling that the Tampa Bay Rays now know all to well, after Monday night’s Game 163, which saw the Rays sending the Rangers off into the Texas night for the second spot in the American League Wild Card.  Now they are on their way to Progressive Field for a Wednesday night match up against the Cleveland Indians.

The winner of the play-in game, will move on to face the Boston Red Sox in American League Division series.

This season the AL Wild Card was once again a wide open race with six teams fighting for the two play-in spots, with the Rays and Rangers holding to two spots for a solid period of time this season.  It was however, the month of September was ultimate decider of who will get the two spots.  Cleveland, who in the month of September finished with a record of 21-6 on the month – including a ten game winning streak to close out the season which included a walk off win against the White Sox, capping the excitement of this season for the Tribe – also closed out a second half of the season with a record of 41-26 in the second half.  Due to the hot September that Cleveland had, they were able to first capture the second wild card spot, but then due to Rays and Rangers slipping, they were able to capture the final spot during the final week of the season.

Asdrubal Cabrera has been activated from the DL by the Cleveland Indians and will be in the team's lineup tonight. (Image Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports)

Asdrubal Cabrera has been activated from the DL by the Cleveland Indians and will be in the team’s lineup tonight. (Image Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports)

Tampa Bay on the other hand, took extraordinary measures to get to the AL Wild Card game.  This season, the Rays were hot and cold depending on the month of the season, with a cold start to the season, but heated up as the season went on.  In the second half the season, the Rays down the stretch finished with a second half record of 37-30 and in the month of September were 17-12 on the month, which included a 8-2 run to close out the regular season.  Despite this, it still took the Rays an extra game to take a spot for the playoffs against the Rangers in Game 163, which they won by a score of 5-2 at the hands of a excellent complete game performance on the mound by David Price and at the plate by Evan Longoria, David Dejesus, and Delmon Young.  Once holders of the top wild card spot, the Rays had to settle for the second spot and a trip to Cleveland.

The match up between the two teams will be the seventh this season.  Tampa Bay were the winners of the regular season series against the Indians, winning four and losing two.

With the teams in mind, time now to turn attention to the game.  On the mound for the game, will be rookie Danny Salazar for Cleveland, and Alex Cobb for Tampa Bay.

The 2013 season for Salazar was a good first one for the rookie, who has talent to improve.  Through ten starts this, Salazar finished the regular season with a record of 2-3.  His ERA was 3.12, and pitched a total of 52.0 innings, through which he struck out 65, while walking 15.  He is a hard thrower, relying on his fastball, albeit sometimes too much of a reliance, but has the talent to pitch well in this game.  Opposite of him, is Alex Cobb, the 25 year old right hander for Tampa Bay, who despite a mid-season set back from a come back line drive, finished the regular season with a solid stat line.  His 2013, consisted of a 11-3 win-loss record.  His ERA on the season, was 2.76 and threw a total of 143.0 innings, over the course of which, he struck out 134 and walked 44.  Cobb was one of the anchors of this Rays staff, that featured the like of Price and Matt Moore.

This match up is two quality arms, but for the Indians it is the risk of starting a rookie.  Even with Salazar looking comfortable in his starts, this game is a different breed of animal, he will have to treat this start as any other.  The same can be said for Cobb, minus the rookie factor, but he has looked dominant in his last three starts to close out the season, going the distance each one.

Jun 24, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez (left) is congratulated by first baseman Nick Swisher (right) after a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Indians defeated the Orioles 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Jun 24, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez (left) is congratulated by first baseman Nick Swisher (right) after a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Indians defeated the Orioles 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Offensively, both teams are similar, with a slight advantage to Cleveland.  The Indians this season, were fifth in runs, seventh in on-base, and ninth in slugging percentage.  Their big producers offensively, were Jason Kipnis, leading the team in two offensive categories in the All Star season that he had, as well as the likes of Carlos Santana and Nick Swisher, who provided power at the plate.  The Tribe also benefited from come from behind wins and late innings offensive production as well, which included eleven walk off wins this season.

Tampa Bay’s offense this season, centered around the production of Longoria, who lead the team in most offensive categories, minus batting average, which was lead by James Loney.  The most telling sign of the Rays offense this season, was the fact that they were fourth overall in on-base percentage, but were eleventh overall in runs scored.  They are also twelfth overall in batting average.  They are offensively talented, much in the same vein as the Indians.

What this means, it that this game for the AL Wild Card and the trip to Boston, will be a close one.  The game most likely won’t be decided in the first few innings, but may come down to the later innings and how each side manages their pitching and of course hitting.  Both Joe Maddon and Terry Francona know and understand the importance of this game, and fortunately for both teams they have players and more importantly managers with postseason experience.  Personally, I think Cleveland will walk away with the victory and move to face Boston, but then again will shall see what happens over the course of nine innings at Progressive Field in Cleveland.

On a historical note, the last time that Cleveland played a one game playoff was in 1948, which they won against Boston by a score of 8-3.  The Indians would later go one to win the World Series that year against the Braves, and also their last World Series victory.  The Rays also have success in one game playoffs as well, which they are riding on that momentum after defeating Texas.  For one thing, the game will be an interesting one to say the least, and an enjoyable one for those watching there at the stadium, and on television.  So sit back watch and enjoy.

Topics: Cleveland Indians, Tampa Bay Rays

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