The Washington Post

AL wild card preview: Tampa Bay Rays vs. Cleveland Indians

Cleveland right-hander Danny Salazar will start Wednesday against the Rays in what will be the 23-year-old’s 11th major league appearance. (Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Tampa Bay Rays at Cleveland Indians

Time, TV: 8 p.m., TBS

Records: Rays, 92-71; Indians, 92-70

The pitchers: The Rays had to use ace David Price to take a win-or-go-home tie-breaking game Monday night in Texas, and that leaves the season in the hands of 25-year-old Alex Cobb, who only 31 / 2 months ago was hit in the head by a line drive off the bat of Kansas City’s Eric Hosmer. Solid before his concussion, he’s been brilliant since returning on Aug. 15, posting a 2.41 ERA while opponents have hit just .219 and slugged just .348 against him. The Indians won their last 10 games of the year — and needed to do so to get in without a tiebreaker — so they couldn’t set up their rotation. The result: 23-year-old rookie Danny Salazar gets the call in what will be the 11th appearance of his major league career. Since coming up in July, Salazar has allowed two or fewer earned runs in seven of his 10 starts, but the fact that he infrequently pitches deep into games — only once has he completed more than six innings — could put the heat on a Cleveland bullpen that’s somewhat in flux. Closer Chris Perez gave up six runs in his last two appearances, and Joe Smith or Justin Masterson could replace him.

The lineups: The Rays and Indians get on-base evenly (.329-.327 respectively) and slug evenly (.408-.410), but Cleveland scored a quarter run per game more than Tampa Bay. The Indians’ two major offseason signings — center fielder Michael Bourn and first baseman Nick Swisher — hit first and second, but have on-base percentages of just .316 and .341, respectively. All-star second baseman Jason Kipnis hits third, but he slugged just .371 with four homers after the all-star break. Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, on the other hand, can make an entire lineup go. He homered and doubled in the win over Texas on Monday, and his OPS when the Rays win is .178 higher than when they lose (.919-.741).

The story lines: The two men who could make a claim to being the American League’s best manager lead the way. In one year, Terry Francona took a Cleveland franchise that hadn’t posted a winning record since 2007 to the playoffs — and a win Wednesday puts him in a series against the franchise he managed to two World Series titles, Boston. Tampa’s Joe Maddon is famous for his unorthodox ways — including getting intentionally tossed from the Rays’ 162nd game, which they had to win, but the Rays have averaged nearly 92 victories over the past six years, a span in which they’ve made the playoffs four times.

— Barry Svrluga



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