Tampa Bay Rays (92-71) at Cleveland Indians (92-70)
Time/Place: 8:07 p.m., Progressive Field
Pitching Matchup: RHP Alex Cobb (11-3, 2.76 ERA) vs. RHP Danny Salazar (2-3, 3.12 ERA)
Cobb faced the Indians in his first start of the season, holding them to just four hits in 7 1/3 shutout innings. It was one of four scoreless outings for Cobb on the season. He wasn't far off in most other starts either. He held the opposition to two runs or fewer in 14 of his 22 starts and only gave up more than four runs in one outing. Since coming off the disabled list for a concussion in August, Cobb has a 2.42 ERA and 2.64 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 59 2/3 innings.
Despite allowing a lower walk rate to left-handed hitters, Cobb allowed lefties to slug 78 points higher in 2013. Twenty seven of the 37 extra base hits he allowed were by lefties. They also had a .296 wOBA compared to .265 by right-handed hitters. This might not be a problem against some teams, but as GWilson pointed out yesterday, the Indians enjoyed the highest percentage of platoon advantage plate appearances in the American League this season.
I'm a bit surprised by Terry Francona's decision to go with Salazar over Justin Masterson tonight. Sure, Masterson has only logged 3 2/3 innings since returning from an oblique injury he suffered in early September, but starting off with your ace and seeing where things take you seems like a better option than saving him for a possible late inning appearance. Of course, I also didn't understand the "put Justin Verlander in the bullpen" grassroots campaign.
Of course, you could do a lot worse than having a rookie like Salazar pitch in an elimination game. Since getting promoted to the big leagues, he has struck out 65 batters in just 52 innings. He gave up eight runs in four home starts, half of which came against the Tigers back in August. However, the most impressive thing about Salazar so far has been his command. He has just 15 walks in the majors this year, with just five coming in 23 innings at Progressive Field.
Despite Cobb's platoon splits detailed above, he's still the better starter in this game. I'm not entirely sold on Salazar yet -- though he's going to be very good in the future -- and the Rays are on a roll, having won nine of their last 11 games -- including five of seven on the road -- while scoring 4.9 runs per game. The Indians are playing well too, but fattened up on creampuffs down the stretch. They lost six of their final seven series against teams above .500. They had a great run to make the postseason and their future is bright, but the Rays' experience wins out tonight.
The Rays keep rolling behind a strong outing from Cobb.