AL Wild Card Game Breakdown: Rays at Indians

The Tampa Bay Rays won Monday night’s tiebreaker game against the Texas Rangers, 5-2, for the right to take on the Cleveland Indians in tonight’s AL Wild Card game.  These two teams seem even, if you look at a glance, so let’s look in-depth at the two teams participating in this one-game showdown.

Lineup:  Rays.  Evan Longoria is one of the best clutch players in the game, and is surrounded by Ben Zobrist, Delmon Young, and James Loney.  Cleveland’s not too bad either, as they don’t have a superstar but are well-rounded with Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, Nick Swisher, and Michael Brantley.

Bench:  Indians.  Both benches have players who would start on most teams, and while the Rays have Kelly Johnson, David Dejesus, Sean Rodriguez, and one of Monday’s heroes Sam Fuld, the Indians counter with Ryan Raburn, Jason Kubel, Mike Aviles, and a 42-year old Jason Giambi who has tended to hit big pinch-hit HRs over the last few years, first in Colorado, and now in Cleveland.

Starter: Rays.  Two very young starters will pitch this game, 25-year-old Alex Cobb for the Rays and 23-year-old Danny Salazar for the Indians.  This will be Salazar’s 11th career MLB start (no pressure!), while Cobb is 11-3 with a 2.76 ERA in his 3rd major league season, and is 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA in his career against Cleveland, although this is also his first postseason start.

Bullpen: Rays.  While Cody Allen and Mark Rzepczynski anchor the Indians pen well, the Rays feature a good mix of young arms and veterans, led by Joel Peralta and Jamey Wright.

Closer: Rays.  While Fernando Rodney can be sporadic at times, Chris Perez is so inconsistent he was actually benched last week.  No word yet on who Cleveland will use to get the final three outs if they have the lead late.

Manager: Indians.  If it weren’t for John Farrell leading the Red Sox from worst to first, Francona would probably be the AL Manager of the Year.  He has won two World Series titles, in 2004 and 2007 with Boston.  The one-off situation is familiar to him, as the 2004 Red Sox won 4 straight elimination games in the ALCS against the Yankees.

Home-field/crowd: Indians.  In this one-game situation, the crowd and the last at-bat can play a huge role in determining the outcome.  The Indians are 51-30 at home, and hasn’t played an elimination game at home since the 1999 ALDS against the Red Sox, the team they are hoping to face in this year’s ALDS.

The Rays have the edge in 4 of my 7 criteria.  I’m expecting a game with a lot of offense, and expecting the Rays to pull out what should be an interesting game.

Bonus:  Should the game go extra innings, the Indians are 10-2 in extra inning games, while the Rays are only 9-7.

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