Hello CoaS readers! I know there’s not a lot of you out there yet but it feels great to have the opportunity to join this excellent, up and coming sports blog. I’d like to thank LFCnonbandwagoner for inviting me to contribute to this wonderful website and I’m looking forward to helping add on to the quality content he provides, as well as expanding the range of sports we cover. LFCnonbandwagoner’s got you covered with quality EPL and NHL content and hopefully I’ll be able to do the same as I start writing columns about the NFL and NBA. The one sport we both love with a passion is baseball, and since it happens to be playoff time, I thought the first thing I’d share with you all would be an MLB column. So without further ado, here’s my take on tomorrow’s American League Wild Card match-up.
Two of the best managers in baseball square off tomorrow night at Progressive Field as Joe Maddon’s Tampa Bay Rays take on Terry Francona’s Cleveland Indians. The Rays were expected to make it into the postseason. They have one of the top rotations in baseball, play terrific defense, and have just enough firepower to make it work offensively. The Wil Myers-James Shields trade is working out well for Tampa and is a huge reason they’ve made it here. Many pundits, however, were shocked to see the Indians play this well, and while it’s mildly surprising, it shouldn’t be that hard to believe. After all, when you add a manager who lifted the World Series curse over the city of Boston and won again just a few years later, your team should improve. Give Francona offensive stars like Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis and acquire pieces like Nick Swisher and Justin Masterson, and it should start to make sense. But let’s go back to the coaching aspect of this for a second, because coaching can make a huge difference. We’ve seen a resurgence in the careers of Ubaldo Jiménez and Scott Kazmir, as well a “taking the next step” type development for Justin Masterson, and I think a lot of that has to do with their new coaching staff. Yes, Masterson has worked with Francona before, and that probably gives him a comfort level he was lacking the last few years, but a different manager hasn’t been the only change. New pitching and bullpen coaches mean people with fresh perspectives and unfamiliar lessons to teach are working with pitchers who are only used to doing things a certain way, and it’s seems to be something that has clicked. Whatever answer Jiménez has discovered about his motion simply wasn’t something that could be found in Colorado. Whatever adjustments Masterson has made weren’t adjustments he was thinking about making in Boston. And whatever is working for Scott Kazmir now was definitely not working for him during his rough tenure with Anaheim. But enough about them. None of those three are pitching in the one game battle tomorrow night. Instead, it’ll be the 23 year old rookie from the Dominican Republic, Danny Salazar. This guy touches 98 with ease and made Miguel Cabrera look downright silly when he struck him out three straight times in their first meeting against each other (before Cabrera promptly launched a home run into deep center field in the fourth at-bat). Salazar has excellent stuff and rookie or not, I think the Rays line-up is going to have a tough time cracking him tomorrow. Meanwhile, the Indians offense will be taking on Alex Cobb, who is pretty terrific in his own right. Often forgotten among the other names in the Rays’ rotation, Cobb has arguably been the best of the bunch. He owns the highest WAR of their starting staff at 4.0 and an excellent 2.76 ERA to go along with it. Combine that with 8.41 K/9 and a WHIP of 1.15 and you can see why Maddon is confident in sending this guy out to the mound. Barring a rough outing, Cobb is also projected to go deeper into the ball game. He’s averaged roughly 7.2 IP over his last 3 outings while Salazar has pitched more than 6 IP only once in 10 starts since being called up from Double-A Akron earlier this season. So what happens if this game comes down to the relievers? It’s actually quite hard to predict, considering both bullpens have nearly identical ERAs. Both teams have quality arms and can match-up well throughout innings 6, 7, and 8, but closers Chris Perez and Fernando Rodney have been shaky to say the least. So similar bullpens and dynamic pitchers means the advantage goes to the better offense right? It would seem Cleveland has the upper hand here, but we can’t forget previous meetings between these two clubs. The one time Cobb faced the Indians this season, he threw 7.1 innings of scoreless ball (Salazar has never faced the Rays). So what’s the final verdict? I’m curious to see how much of a factor the Cleveland crowd will play in the game after seeing how much of an effect it had in tonight’s NL showdown between the Reds and Pirates. Reds’ manager Dusty Baker can deny it all he wants but Pittsburgh’s fans did something to rattle Johnny Cueto. Despite Cobb’s previous success and my man-crush on Joe Maddon, I think I’m going to have to lean with the team who’s playing at home and whose offense has been better all season long. Yeah, I know. I can’t believe I’m doubting the team that just beat the Rangers under very similar circumstances: one game decides who advances, it’s on the road, opposed by a terrific offense, and facing a good rookie pitcher. Oh well, a gut feeling is a gut feeling. CLE 4 TB 2