Five AL wild-card questions
For all the small-market teams, for all the teams that play before sparse crowds, for all the teams that, a month ago, didn't look like they'd make the playoffs, we give you the Indians and Rays in the American League wild-card game.
AL Wild Card: Rays at Indians
Complete coverage of the Rays-Indians matchup. More »
These are tough, gritty teams with, at least lately, good pitching, and with managers who inspire players, and entertain us.
Here are five questions.
How hot are the Indians?
They won their final 10 games of the regular season, the fifth-longest streak by any team to finish any season (the 1960 Yankees won the most in a row to finish a season: 15).
The Indians outscored their opponents 57-24 in those 10 games. In their last 90 innings, they did not make an error.
The last time they trailed at the end of an inning was Sept. 22. Granted, all this was done against three terrible teams, the Astros, White Sox and Twins, but wins are wins, and the more wins, the greater the momentum. And right now, this team is really rolling. And leading the way is manager Terry Francona, who made them believe this was possible.
How accustomed are the Rays to games such as this?
Over the past six years, during which time only the Yankees have a better record, the Rays have played more "must-win" games than any team. At least it seems that way.
"We never make it easy on ourselves," manager Joe Maddon said. There was the remarkable final game of the 2011 season. There were several games down the stretch this year that the Rays won when they almost had to. There was the game this past Sunday in Toronto in which a loss might have ended their season. And then they won Game 163 Monday night.
It's like Rays pitcher Chris Archer said recently, "If you want to see exciting baseball, come see the Rays." There's no telling what they might come up with next.
Is Indians starter Danny Salazar ready for a game this big?
From all indications, yes.
"He throws 97," said Yankees infielder Mark Reynolds, who played for the Indians this year. "He is really good."
In 52 innings this season, Salazar, 23, had a 3.12 ERA, 65 strikeouts and a .226 batting average against. In September, his ERA was 2.52.
"I have seen him several times this year, and he pitches well beyond his years," one scout said. "He doesn't look like a rookie out there."
How good is Rays starter Alex Cobb?
He is their best pitcher right now.
He was 11-3 with a 2.76 ERA in 22 starts this season. In his past nine starts, he was 5-1 with a 2.41 ERA. Those nine starts followed two months on the disabled list after being hit in the head with a line drive.
Cobb said he hasn't flinched once on a ball hit near him, which is remarkable given how hard he was hit on June 15. Some pitchers, after being hit, alter their delivery and don't finish their motion because they are more interested in finishing in perfect fielding position so they don't get hit again.
But Cobb has gone the other way. He said he put himself "even more in harm's way" by exaggerating the finish to his delivery to make sure he didn't lose velocity or the late bite on any of his off-speed stuff. Knowing that, Cobb won't be intimidated or scared starting the biggest game of his life.
Who will get the ball for the Indians in a save situation?
There are several options, but Chris Perez is not one of them.
Masterson, once the ace of the rotation, injured his oblique Sept. 2, and has returned as a reliever. In 3 2/3 innings of relief, he has allowed one hit, no runs, walked one and struck out seven. Remember, Masterson was an effective reliever for Francona when both were in Boston. His hard sinker, and the rest of his stuff, plays very well in relief.
The pick: Indians win.