AL Wild Card Game 2013: Rays vs. Indians Breakdown and Predictions

Alex Cobb vs. Indians Lineup

Thanks to a wild end to the season that led to a tie between the Rays and Rangers, Tampa Bay had to burn ace David Price in a must-win tiebreaker game on Monday night.

His replacement for the elimination game against the Indians will be Alex Cobb. Indians closer Chris Perez acknowledged the advantage that this provides his team.

Alex Cobb was en route to enjoying a career year, possibly even worthy of the Cy Young Award. But on July 15, Cobb took a line drive to the head, which immediately put his season into question. Miraculously, the 25-year-old bounced back and took the hill again on Aug. 15, looking like his old self.

On the season, Cobb posted a 2.76 ERA (versus a 3.36 FIP), 1.15 WHIP and 2.98 K/BB. But in terms of experience versus the Indians, the right-hander has faced the team only once in 2013. He tossed 7.1 scoreless innings against Cleveland, giving up just four hits and three walks while striking out six, in his very first start of the year.

Despite boasting a left-handed-heavy lineup, the Indians have managed only a middle-of-the-pack park-adjusted 103 wRC+ against right-handed pitching in 2013. Considering Cobb has limited southpaws to a .235 batting average and .677 OPS, he looks to have the upper hand.

Danny Salazar vs. Rays Lineup

Danny Salazar did not start the season with the Cleveland Indians big league club. The 23-year-old hoofed it in the minors until July 11, when the Indians promoted the rookie for his first call of duty. Salazar responded by limiting the Toronto Blue Jays to just one run and two hits over six innings.

The right-hander’s success only continued, as he posted a 3.12 ERA (versus a park-adjusted 121 ERA+), 1.14 WHIP and 4.33 K/BB over 52.0 innings (10 starts). His sterling ratio of 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings illustrates the hurler’s dominance this season.

Now almost three months after his major league debut, Salazar finds himself starting a pivotal one-game bout against the Tampa Bay Rays—a team he has never faced.

Despite just owning a collective .251 batting average against right-handed pitching in 2013, the Rays might still have the upper hand versus Salazar. In addition to the Rays possessing a fourth-best park-adjusted 108 wRC+, Salazar owns only a 4.38 FIP against righties this season.

Bullpen Breakdown

On paper, Chris Perez seems like a solid closer given his four seasons of double-digit saves. But he’s hardly been the rock the Indians would like him to be. Perez has posted a 4.33 ERA (versus a park-adjusted 87 ERA+), 1.43 WHIP and 2.57 K/BB in 2013.

By comparison, Fernando Rodney has recovered mightily from his early-season struggles. Rodney has posted a 2.73 ERA (versus a 2.44 FIP) in the second half after a dismal first two months, where he surrendered 13 earned runs in 22.2 innings. 

Aside from closers, the Rays bullpen advantage slips a bit. The Rays pen has combined for a 3.59 ERA (versus a 3.36 FIP), whereas the Indians have posted a similar 3.62 ERA (versus a 3.79 FIP).

Considering Bryan Shaw (a 3.24 ERA versus a park-adjusted 116 ERA+), Cody Allen (a 2.43 ERA versus a 155 ERA+) and Joe Smith (a 2.29 ERA versus a 165 ERA+) are all deserving of closing, the success of the Indians bullpen obviously has little to do with their ninth-inning guy.

Bench Breakdown

The one glaring advantage the Cleveland Indians have over the Tampa Bay Rays is their bench. In fact, the Indians bench has been so productive that players like Yan Gomes and Ryan Raburn have forced Terry Francona to find ample playing time for them.

By comparison, the Rays bench is relatively thin. Joe Maddon relegated Kelly Johnson to mostly bench duties when Wil Myers got the call in June. But despite a productive first half as a starter (a park-adjusted 114 wRC+ and 13 home runs), Johnson has been a ghost in the second half as a backup (a 70 wRC+ and just three home runs).

While the addition of Delmon Young certainly bolstered the Rays bench, the Indians essentially have two legitimate starting players as Plan B’s.

Manager Breakdown

Few big league managers elicit more respect than Rays skipper Joe Maddon. Since 2006, Maddon has navigated his small-market team to three postseason appearances, with a World Series berth in 2008. The manager has also witnessed the Rays go from a 101-loss team in 2006 to a perennial 90-plus-win team (five times).

Maddon is also known for using advanced statistics in-game, playing to all the peripheral strengths of his squad. With a mere $62 million payroll, Joe Maddon has done quite well with the talent at hand.

Though Maddon is certainly a well-respected coach, so is Indians manager Terry Francona. Not only did Francona earn World Series rings with the Boston Red Sox in 2004 and 2007, but he has also helped lead a mostly rebuilding franchise in Cleveland to the playoffs.

Considering the accolades of both Maddon and Francona, the Rays and Indians are about even in the skipper department.

Home-Field Advantage

One of the main reasons for the Cleveland Indians’ success in 2013 was their dominance at home. The Indians owned a 51-30 record in Cleveland, compared to a pedestrian 41-40 record away.

The same was the case for the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays posted a dynamic 51-30 record at home with a mere 41-41 win-loss mark on the road.

But considering the Indians will have home-field advantage, the Tribe have the upper hand in their one-game series.

It’s also worth noting that Alex Cobb (a 2.70 ERA away) and Danny Salazar (a 3.13 ERA at home) perform well away and at home, respectively.

Who Will Win?

There is no team entering the MLB Postseason hotter than the Cleveland Indians who are rocking a tenspot of a winning streak which helped to carry them to host this game against Tampa Bay, who took out Texas on Monday night in Arlington. Cleveland has not played a playoff game since 2007 so one would think that their crowd would be raucous (but we never know with Cleveland fans). Terry Francona is taking a big risk in having Danny Salazar start with his ten big league starts, while the Rays will throw out Alex Cobb, who has had a fine 2013. I know going off of momentum is probably a terrible call but considering it is only a one game playoff, I like the Indians to be more like the Windians (I’m sorry). Pick: Cleveland 

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