The Tampa Bay Rays have turned the corner and will parlay the momentum of a play-in game victory into a win in the American League Wild Card game Wednesday on the road versus the Cleveland Indians.
While the Rays limped into a tie-breaker game against the Texas Rangers in order to determine baseball’s final playoff spot (they’d lost two out of three coming into that game), they played excellently in that contest, winning 5-2 on the road. In baseball, it just takes one great victory to change attitude, and I believe that win has them pointed in the right direction.
As for this game, it also helps that the Rays have one of their best pitchers going. Alex Cobb has delivered a magnificent performance in 2013. He finished the year with an 11-3 record and a 2.76 ERA. As far as throwing in Cleveland, he actually threw a bit better on the road than at home (2.70 ERA in away games versus a 2.81 ERA in Tampa). But more than anything, he’s been incredibly sharp in recent performances.
In his past five games he’s 3-0 with a 2.57 ERA and in his past two appearances, he’s won them both and posted a 0.59 ERA. As for his history against the Indians, it’s solid. He’s held Cleveland’s hitters to a .230 lifetime average and a .279 lifetime slugging percentage in 69 career plate appearances.
Cleveland has its positives coming into this match up. Namely, they’re playing confidently. They’ve won 10 straight with six of those wins came at home. But it’s important to point out that said winning streak occurred against the Houston Astros, Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins. Those three teams had a cumulative record of 180-306 this season.
Cleveland will have their hands far more full with a Tampa Bay team that went 92-72 in 2013. Moreover, Cleveland will be relying on pitcher, Danny Salazar, with only ten Major League starts under his belt. Most telling: he’s logged a quality start (six innings or more pitched; three runs or fewer allowed) in just two of those ten starts, and he hasn’t registered one in any of his past four starts.
Part of the issue with Salazar is he doesn’t go deep into games – he’s only lasted more than six innings once all year. That puts pressure on an Indians bullpen, which has been merely average in terms of run prevention this season (seventh out of 15 teams in the AL).
Best bet: Take the Tampa Bay Rays, who are on at 1.85, to book a place in an American League Division series.