Indians ride hot streak into AL Wild Card Game
Before the season a positive buzz surrounding the Cleveland Indians. They hired Terry ‘Tito’ Francona as the new manager and signed All-Stars such as Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Jason Giambi. The Tribe would most definitely improve from their 94 loss season a year ago, but it would most likely not be enough to reach the playoffs. Especially since they are in the same division as the Detroit Tigers and the Wild Card winners should come out of the much stronger AL Eastern Division.
The Indians, however, stayed close and made the most of their relatively easy schedule at the end of the season to pass the Rangers, Rays, Yankees and Orioles in the Wild Card Race. The team went 19-6 in the final month of the season and has won their last ten games in a row. In the American League Wild Card Game they will be playing the Tampa Bay Rays, the Rays looked to be a lock for the playoffs and were even battling the Red Sox for the division title. They fell into a slide after August 25th though, as shown by their 18-18 record to end the season. They needed a Game 163 to break a tie with the Texas Rangers.
It took a complete game effort from ace pitcher David Price to beat the Rangers and qualify for the Wild Card Game. This means both teams will not be able to start their best pitchers in this crucial one game playoff.
Even though they are obviously hot, the Indians will be underdogs for this game. The Rays, on paper, have a better team and won the regular season series (4-2). Tampa Bay is starting Alex Cobb (11-3, 2.76 ERA) and even though he is not the ace manager Joe Maddon will trust him in this crucial game. Cobb won his only start against the Indians, pitching 7.1 scoreless innings on April 6th, whilst striking out six and only allowing four base hits.
The Indians will counter with rookie Danny Salazar (2-3, 3.12 ERA), who has only made ten starts in his big league career. Salazar, however, is the kind of pitcher that can dominate lineups. He has thrown seven or more strikeouts in six of his ten starts, one of them coming against the Detroit Tigers and their strong lineup. A problem for the Indians could be that Salazar has only thrown 100+ pitches once in his career and that their bullpen has a relatively high (3.62) ERA. Tampa Bay’s bullpen has not been much better at 3.57.
Worth a gamle?
If somehow both starters leave this game early, it could get very interesting. Tampa Bay’s bullpen has faltered lately, while Terry Francona has decided to use his ace Justin Masterson, who has just returned from injury, as a high-leverage multi-inning reliever. In case Salazar leaves with a lead after six innings, expect Masterson to close this game out as Francona will try to stretch him out to see if he could start Masterson in a later stage during the postseason. Maddon on the other hand will have every opportunity to mix and match during the final innings as he has multiple left-handed specialists at his disposal to shut down late inning threats by lefty bats.
The Rays are the favorites (-109) in this matchup, but the red-hot Indians playing a home game might be worth a gamble at (-101). It wouldn’t be the first time a team that got hot in September stretches their good run into the postseason. The over/under for runs scored is at 7.5 and I think I'd take the under on this one for -125, instead of the over for +105.
Seb Visser is a former Dutch Major League Baseball player turned baseball writer. He tries to use the insights he gained in his playing days to increase the quality of his articles and help bettors better understand the game of baseball and increase their chance to win their bets.