MLB Playoffs: Indians, Rays in 'wild' matchup
The Indians are hot in Cleveland. Winners of 10 games in a row, the Tribe managed to avoid a complicated three-team tie for the two wild-card spots. Instead, the Rays and Rangers duked it out on Monday in a play-in game, with Tampa Bay earning the final AL wild card berth.
Now, the Rays find themselves in another one-game playoff tonight against the Indians, with a spot in the ALDS against the Red Sox up for grabs.
Indians manager Terry Francona has placed his faith in starting pitcher Danny Salazar (2-3, 3.12 ERA), a 23-year-old right-hander with just 10 career big-league starts. The Rays have never faced Salazar, which could be a blessing if the rookie rises to the challenge.
Salazar has only pitched into the eighth inning once as a major leaguer, so there's a good chance Cleveland's bullpen will have to do some heavy lifting. In that case, right-handers Cody Allen (2.43 ERA in 77 appearances) and Joe Smith (2.29 in 70 appearances) may see action against the talented Rays lineup.
That lineup, led by veterans Evan Longoria (.269, 32 HRs, 88 RBIs) and Ben Zobrist (.275, 12 HRs, 11 SBs), was boosted in the second half by the arrival of top outfield prospect Wil Myers (.293, 13 HRs, 53 RBIs). Talented rookies have made names for themselves in the past, and 2013 may be Myers' time to shine on a national stage.
Opposing Salazar on the mound is Alex Cobb (11-3, 2.76 ERA). The righty pitched well against the Indians in an April start, but that also means Jason Kipnis (.284, 17 HRs, 84 RBIs, 30 SBs) and Carlos Santana (.268, 20 HRs, 74 RBIs) will be seeing Cobb for the second time.
It's tough to pick against a team that's won 10 games in a row, but the Rays have won eight out of 10 themselves and should pitch well enough to advance.