AL Wildcard Preview: Tampa Bay Rays At Cleveland Indians
Well, the Cleveland Indians are back in the post-season for the first time since 2007 which saw them blow a 3 games to 1 lead on the Boston Red Sox, the eventual World Series champions. The Tampa Bay Rays come into this wildcard game after defeating Martin Perez and the Texas Rangers on Monday night behind an absolute gem from David Price. Both of these teams come into the game being lead by outstanding managers Joe Maddon and AL Manager of the Year candidate, Terry Francona. Both teams finished the regular season at different ends of the spectrum. The Indians won their final 10 games in a row while the Rays stumbled down the stretch which allowed for the Rangers to force a one game playoff in Texas. This game should be quite interesting as both teams are loaded with talent but I have a feeling the game will come down to the battle of the bullpens.
Why Tampa Bay will win:
Alex Cobb when healthy this season was arguably one of the best pitchers the Rays can throw out on the mound. Cobb finished the regular season 11-3 with a 2.76 ERA and in 9 starts since returning from the DL, he posted a 2.41 ERA. Cobb has the ability to be absolutely dominant once he settles into the ballgame so it is imperative the Indians strike early and often to get to the sometimes shaky, Rays bullpen. The bullpen may be the downfall for the Rays. After being stellar last season, the bullpen looked vulnerable during the season. Fernando Rodney was untouchable last season but was roughed up this season to the tune of 8 blown saves and a 3.38 ERA. If the game is close late, look no further than Evan Longoria who always seems to have a flare for the dramatics in big games, but that can only be set up if Cobb has a strong start and the bullpen holds strong. If those come together, expect the Rays to be able to take this game.
Key Players tonight: Evan Longoria, ENTIRE Rays bullpen
Why Cleveland will win:
What a difference a year makes for the Indians. They made all the right moves in the off-season starting by bringing in Terry Francona to manage the team, signing prized free agent Nick Swisher, and signing Michael Bourn just before the season started. The biggest reason the Indians had so much success this season was the strength of the rotation led by Justin Masterson who was having a great season before injuring his oblique. He is back in the bullpen and is most likely going to be used as the team’s closer taking over for the implosion of Chris Perez, as he has clearance to throw around 65 pitches. The Indians are starting young fire-baller Danny Salazar, who will be making only his 11th big league start but has been superb, striking out an average of 11.25 batters per 9 innings. If Salazar can go 6 strong, it is likely the rest of the game will be handed to Masterson for the final 3 innings, and if that happens, the game should be in Cleveland’s hands, as their offense led by Swisher, Carlos Santana, and company have been coming up with clutch hits all season long.
Pick: Cleveland Indians
If the Indians fans were paying any attention to the Pittsburgh Pirates fans last night, the intimidation factor of a one game playoff on the road could spook the Rays. The Pirates crowd absolutely rattled Johnny Cueto and if they can do the same to Cobb, the Indians and their fans could very much be hoping to see the Rays shaky bullpen early in the game. I have the Indians on the strength of Salazar, Masterson, and Nick Swisher.