Can the Oakland A’s Win the AL West?

Although the game is under protest by the Oakland A’s and manager Bob Melvin, as it stands now, the LA Angels own a 4-3, 10th inning walk-off win against their division rivals. This translates to an 80-53 record for the Angels and a two-game lead over the A’s at 78-55.

The game is under protest due to a ninth inning obstruction call that went against Oakland and was upheld by umpire Greg Gibson and crew chief Gerry Davis. Howie Kendrick collected the game-winning RBI with a sacrifice fly in the 10th off A’s reliever Ryan Cook (1-2).

The A’s did put up quite a fight in the game, typical of their outstanding season. After struggling through the first three innings, staff ace Sonny Gray retired the next 12 batters to finish with seven innings, allowing three runs off six hits and three walks. Gray’s season record is an impressive 13-7 with 3.03 ERA and 1.21 WHIP over 178 innings pitched.

But the A’s are struggling as a team since the All Star break. They are 19-19 since the break and have lost 11 of their last 17. The A’s still maintain a 5-1/2 game lead on the top Wild Card spot over Detroit and Seattle. LA has won seven of ten and appear to be the hot team right now, although the loss of staff ace Garrett Richards could diminish their chances of staying on top.

Although the acquisition of starter John Lester from Boston has certainly improved the A’s pitching staff and their team overall, the loss of Yoenis Cespedes has hurt the offense. In 24 games with the Red Sox, Cespedes is batting .280 with four doubles, four home runs and 20 RBI’s. Although not staggering numbers by any stretch, the A’s could use his bat right now.

Derek Norris is leading the team offensively with a .270 BA. Josh Donaldson is leading in power numbers with 26 homers and 88 RBI’s, but is only batting .255. The offense will have to pick it up in September to support the pitching staff if they want to challenge the Angels for the AL West crown.

Tampa Bay Dispatches Cleveland On Wednesday Night; Plays Boston Next In ALDS

On Wednesday night, the Tampa Bay Rays moved on to the ALDS after beating the Cleveland Indians 4-0 in the AL Wild Card game. The Rays will now travel to Boston to face the Red Sox with that series starting on Friday. Alex Cobb was the winning pitcher, as he scattered 8 hits in 6-2/3 shutout innings. Danny Salazar was tagged with the loss. He only lasted 4 innings and gave up 4 hits and 3 runs, all earned.

The crowd was raucous in Cleveland to start the game. On a perfect fall evening, the Cleveland fans were trying their best to energize the Tribe. However, it just wasn’t meant to be. Numerous times in the game, the Indians had men in scoring position but were unable to deliver. Cleveland actually outhit the Rays 9 to 8, but the Rays pitchers were always able to work out of jams.

In the bottom of the fourth, the Indians were able to load the bases with one out. Unfortunately for Cleveland, Cobb was able to get Asdrubal Cabrera to ground into an inning-ending double play. The next inning, Cleveland started off with two consecutive hits and had runner at first and third with no outs. Yet again, Cobb was able to get out of the inning unscathed as the next three batters went quietly. The bottom of the 7threpresented another lost opportunity and was probably the nail in the coffin. With runners at first and second with two outs, Cobb was lifted for flamethrower Joel Peralta. The 37-year-old right-hander promptly struck Nick Swisher out.

The game was probably lost for Cleveland in the top of the 3rd. That is when Delmon Young led off the inning with a home run off of Salazar. While it was just one run, Salazar seemed shaken and wasn’t the same after that. He lost a bit of confidence in his dominating fastball and started nibbling, which only made things worse for him. In the 4th, he gave up 3 hits, including a 2-run double to Desmond Jennings. After walking Jose Molina in the top of the 5th, he was lifted.

I am sure there will be some second-guessing about Terry Francona’s decision to start the rookie Salazar in this make-or-break game. While the 23-year-old has looked electric at times down the stretch (65 strikeouts in 52.1 innings), he had only 10 career starts before last night. However, Francona was a bit handcuffed with his decision. Justin Masterson, their top starter this year, was recovering from an oblique injury and could only pitch out of the bullpen. Also, Ubaldo Jiminez, their top starter in the 2ndhalf, had pitched on Sunday to clinch their spot in the Wild Card. Salzar probably seemed like the best option, especially as he’d been pitching well since coming up.

For the Rays, Delmon Young is providing a boost to the offense at just the right time. Less than two months ago, the former #1 overall pick was on the unemployment line after the Philadelphia Phillies released him. Tampa Bay decided to pick him up in hoped that he could provide a little offensive insurance off the bench. In 23 games at the end of the regular season, he hit .258/.329/.452 with 3 HRs. Also, I am sure the Rays remembered his exploits in the playoffs last year, when he was the ALCS MVP for the Detroit Tigers. In the previous two postseasons, he had 9 home runs. The decision to pick him up is already paying dividends for the Rays.

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 

Cleveland Indians Are Red Hot at the Right Time; Tied With Tampa at Top Of Wild Card Standings

After pounding the hapless Minnesota Twins 12-6 last night, the Cleveland Indians are on the cusp of making their first postseason appearance since 2007. They are now tied at the top of the Wild Card standings with the Tampa Bay Rays. Both teams hold a one game lead over the Texas Rangers with 2 left to play. The Rangers finish the season against division rival Los Angeles while Tampa Bay wraps it up with Toronto.

The Indians, who’ve been in the Wild Card running pretty much all season, have been the benefactors of an extremely easy end-of-the-season schedule. They’ve won 13 of 15 and 8 in a row, as four of their final five series were against sub-.500 teams. In fact, the only two games they’ve lost in this time were against Kansas City, the only team with a winning record. The fact is, they’ve really needed this light schedule as both Texas and Tampa Bay have been red-hot at the end. The Rangers, after going through a swoon that led to them dropping out of the Wild Card lead, have now won 5 in a row. Tampa Bay has won 8 of the past 10.

If the Indians are able to hold on and make it into the Wild Card, it remains to be seen just how far they can go. On paper, the team does not look all that strong, and seems to have some glaring weaknesses. Manager Terry Francona has removed Chris Perez as the team’s closer, as he’s been absolutely terrible down the stretch. Since August 5th, Perez has an ERA of 7.85 and has allowed 7 HRs in 18.1 innings, while blowing 3 saves. Francona may go with setup man Joe Smith, or staff ace Justin Masterson, who is recovering from an oblique injury and doesn’t yet have his stamina back to start games.

With Masterson out as a starter, they are desperately lacking a true #1 starter. Ubaldo Jimenez has been solid this year (12-9, 3.38 ERA, 1.347 WHiP), but he’s only managed 176 innings in 31 starts, basically showing that he’s at most a 6-inning pitcher this season. He has been great in the past with Colorado, but he’s best served as a #3 or 4 right now. Sadly, he’s the best option Cleveland has right now. Their other starters (Scott, Kazmir, Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Zach McAllister) have been decent at times, but once again, nothing great.

As for offense, they are pretty much a middle-of-the-pack hitting team. They have some power, but their leading home run hitter only has 21 (Nick Swisher.) Michael Brantley leads the team in average at .288. They don’t have an everyday player with a slugging average over .500. Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana lead the team in that category, as both are at .451. They do have decent team speed, as four players are in double digits in stolen bases. But just like their starting staff, they lack that one major impact player right now. Kipnis may eventually become that player, but he isn’t quite there this year.

Even if the Indians don’t go far in the playoffs, just getting there is a heck of an accomplishment. This team won only 68 games last season. They haven’t had a winning season since 2007, when they were beat in the ALCS by Francona’s Red Sox. It seems like a no-brainer that Francona will get the AL Manager of the Year award, as he’s really gotten the most out of this squad. Perhaps they can continue to surprise in the playoffs as they’ve done all year.

Indians Send Strikeout Machine Mark Reynolds Packing

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The Cleveland Indians have designated 3B/1B Mark Reynolds for assignment on Thursday. They now have 10 days to release him, send him to the minors or trade him. The Indians signed him to a one-year/$6 million deal in the offseason. They knew his penchant for low batting averages and high strikeouts, but were hoping that he’d balance it out with big power numbers. That didn’t occur this season, so now they have sent him packing.

For the season, Reynolds is hitting .215/.307/.373 with 15 HRs and 48 RBI in 99 games. He also has 123 strikeouts. The batting average isn’t a shock, as he hasn’t hit above .221 since 2009. Neither are the K’s. But the low slugging percentage and less-than-expected home run total made him completely expendable. Add to that his terrible defense at third and first, and there is just no real reason to keep him around.

Reynolds has really struggled in the last month and a half, playing so poorly that the Tribe only started him in a handful of games the past three weeks. His last home run was on June 28th. Since then, he is hitting only .136/.240/.152 with 28 strikeouts in 22 games. Cleveland, in the thick of a tight pennant race in the AL Central, just couldn’t afford to have him take up a roster spot anymore. They are already going with a platoon of Mike Aviles and Lonnie Chisenhall at third.

Reynolds, 30, is still pretty young, and when he is right, can provide a lot of power. From 2008 to 2012, he hit a total of 164 home runs, topping 30 three times with a high of 44 in 2009. His days of being an everyday player might be behind him. However, he might be able to catch on as part of a platoon situation, where he primarily faces left-handers, preferably as a DH or first baseman.