The Cleveland Indians get to sit back and watch as the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays fight it out for the second wild card spot tonight at 8PM. The Indians will have a chance to sort out their pitching, the most important aspect of the post season, while the Rays and Rangers will have to use whatever it takes to win tonight.
That will be the type of game the Indians, and their opponents, will have on Wednesday, the Wild Card game. It is a win or go home game. Because of that each team will have every pitcher available at a moments notice to enter the game. For the Indians they can figure out a plan now. Tito Francona can work through every possible option: Pulling starter early, leaving in late, close game, blow out, etc. The winner of the Rays and Rangers will have more work to do on Tuesday. They will need to do the same thing but also figure out who is available to even pitch after Game 163 tonight.
The Indians plan to start rookie sensation and fireballer Danny Salazar. Salazar has had a tremendous start to his big league career and his strikeout totals per nine innings have been amazing. Yet placing their post season in the hands of a rookie, however tremendously talented, has to be concerning. While Salazar has had a great start to the season he also tends to have a high pitch count due to all his strikeouts. He also, until recently, was on a strict innings limit. In a perfect world Salazar would be able to pitch into or complete the 5th inning, keeping a small lead or the game tied.
The Indians then can bring in season long ace Justin Masterson to possibly finish off the game. This could provide a dual benefit: Bringing in a great pitcher who can go a few innings and stretching out Masterson to return to starting in the ALDS. Francona has hinted at this as a plan but has been cautious as anything could happen in the game. The only pitcher that will not be available for the WC game is Ubaldo Jimenez who pitched on Sunday. The rest are capable. The 25 man post season roster can be altered after this game so expect an extra pitcher to be brought along for this one game series.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays will be running Ace David Price out against the Rangers tonight. Price will not be available for the WC game against the Tribe which could be a huge gain for the home team. This season Price has a 3.39 ERA but only a 9-8 record. The Rays won’t have starter Matt Moore who pitched yesterday and may not want to use their setup man and closer, Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney, who both pitched an inning and a third yesterday. Saturday’s starter Chris Archer only went 2 and a third inning so he could be available. Price has struggled against the Rangers so this could become a bullpen game for the Rays which will leave them more limited for the WC game against the Indians, should they get there.
The Rangers will put their season in the hands of rookie Martin Perez. Perez has pitched well so far with a 3.55 ERA and a 10 – 5 record. Perez joined the team late in May. Perez has an above average fastball, as well as a slider and curve to his arsenal. He has already thrown 160 pitches after only a little over 30 last year in the big leagues. Arm fatigue could be a factor. The Rangers could use Alexi Ogando if needed but he threw 5 1/3 on Friday and probably would start against the Indians on Wednesday. Saturday and Sunday’s starters, Derek Holland and Yu Darvish, are not available for the Rangers tonight. Darvish would probably not be available for the WC game if the Rangers get there.
All in all the Indians have a good setup and plan, unfortunately for the Rays and Rangers they won’t know what they can and will do until this game is over. The way the season has gone it wouldn’t surprise anyone if this game went into extra innings. The more innings pitched the better for the Indians on Wednesday. Either way its going to be exciting tonight and Wednesday in the American League.