MLB Playoffs 2013: Breaking Down Pitching Matchup in AL Wild Card Game
An entire season will come down to one game for the Tampa Bay Rays and Cleveland Indians. The winner will advance to the American League Division Series against the Boston Red Sox, and the loser will go home.
In a battle like this, things will come down to the pitching matchup more than anything else. The man on the mound controls the game, and his performance will dictate whether his squad is successful or not.
This matchup features two young players who both want to prove themselves on the big stage. Alex Cobb and Danny Salazar are not household names yet, but a strong showing in this one will definitely boost their profile.
Still, it will be up to each in order to carry their team to victory. Here is a look at what to expect in the upcoming game on Wednesday.
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Alex Cobb, Tampa Bay Rays
Of the two starters in this game, Cobb is the more experienced. Of course, he is far from a veteran with only 54 career starts spread over three seasons.
However, he has continually improved up until this season, and he enters this game as one of the hottest pitchers in the American League.
The 25-year-old pitcher missed two months of the year after getting hit in the head with a line drive, but he has come back strong since the middle of August. In nine starts, he has a 5-1 record with a 2.41 ERA.
He will have a good chance of continuing this run against the Indians thanks mostly to his great changeup. While Cobb can fire his fastball up to the mid-90s, his ability to take some off the pitch can really fool hitters.
Cleveland had 10 different players reach double digits in home runs this season, but the entire lineup has a tendency to be overaggressive. This will cause the players to suffer against the changeup, as they did when Cobb pitched 7.1 scoreless innings in April.
The pitcher will also mix in a curveball to keep hitters off balance, and this repertoire will give him a good chance of coming away with a strong outing.
Danny Salazar, Cleveland Indians
A few months ago, few would have expected Salazar to be pitching in Cleveland's biggest game of the year. Then again, not many had even heard of the young starter at that point.
The 23-year-old prospect made major league debut on July 11 and has not looked back. In 10 starts, he had an impressive 3.12 ERA and 1.13 WHIP, both of which led all Indians starters this season.
Salazar also showed an elite ability to strike players out during his short stretch. If he had enough starts to qualify, he would have ranked second in the majors with 11.25 strikeouts per inning.
His best pitch by far is his fastball, which can get close to triple digits during a game. The flame-thrower will utilize his slider and changeup a few times, but the fastball is what he will trust to get him out of trouble.
Unfortunately, he could be looking at a lot of trouble in this game while facing some experienced hitters on the Rays. Evan Longoria and others are hitting well, and they should be able to catch up to his fastball.
Additionally, manager Terry Francona has not had a lot of trust in Salazar, pulling him before the fifth inning in four different starts. This will put a lot of pressure on the youngster to do well early in the game.
Cleveland's lineup is red-hot entering this game and it is a big reason the squad ended the regular season on a 10-game winning streak. The squad has scored at least five runs in seven-straight games.
This will allow the offense to jump on Cobb early, but the talented pitcher will be able to settle down enough to put together a quality start. Fans should expect him to go seven innings while allowing three runs.
On the other side, it is hard to imagine Salazar completing more than five innings with a short leash. The Rays will be able to get a few big hits and knock around the young player for four runs in four innings.
That will put a lot of pressure on the bullpen to keep the team in contention for the remainder of the game.
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