Series Preview #51: Tampa Bay Rays (76-83) at Cleveland Indians (83-76)
Bob Toth | On 26, Sep 2014
For one final time in the 2014 regular season, the Cleveland Indians will play host, and again, it comes with the season on the line. The Tampa Bay Rays come to Progressive Field starting Friday night, looking to squash what little hope is left in a trip to the playoffs for the Tribe.
The Indians (83-76) had an opportunity to make a mess of the American League Wild Card race during the week. Instead, they may have played their way to an earlier start to the offseason. After holding on to win the conclusion of the August 31st suspended game, 4-3, they dropped two straight to the Kansas City Royals. They were blanked by Danny Duffy and the Royals bullpen in a 2-0 loss on Monday night. Five runs in the middle innings and two more in the seventh paced KC to a 7-1 win on Tuesday. After giving up the lead in the fifth inning on Wednesday, the Indians bounced back and held on to win a 6-4 contest to avoid the series sweep and to keep their Wild Card hopes alive.
At 83-76, the Indians have posted consecutive winning seasons for the first time since the 2000 and 2001 seasons, the end of a stretch of seven such years, and gave Terry Francona his tenth straight winning record as a manager. After the Royals defeated the Chicago White Sox on Thursday night, the Indians hopes are slim. They must sweep the Rays, while the Texas Rangers must complete a four-game sweep of the Oakland A’s. The Seattle Mariners also must drop a game in their final series for the Indians to have any chance. Tough odds for sure, but stranger and much more statistically unlikely things have happened in Cleveland over the last few years.
The Rays (76-83) went into Boston during the week and dropped two of three to the Red Sox. They won their lone game on Tuesday night, helped out by a five-run eighth inning in a 6-2 win. The Red Sox then put up eleven runs in each of the next two nights, winning 11-3 on Wednesday and 11-1 on Thursday. For the first time since 2007, Tampa Bay will finish the regular season with a losing record, something they had not done since spending their first ten years in existence at 70 wins or fewer.
Corey Kluber (17-9, 2.53 ERA) will look to close out his stellar 2014 campaign while staying alive in the AL Cy Young race and the AL Wild Card picture when he makes Friday’s first pitch at 7:05 PM ET. He is at the top of most AL pitching statistics this season, including strikeouts (second with 258), innings pitched (third with 227 2/3), ERA (fourth with a 2.53 mark), and wins (third with 17). He has struck out 28 batters in his last 15 innings. Chris Archer (10-8, 3.42), a former Tribe farmhand, will get the start for Tampa. He earned the loss in his lone start against the Indians this season, allowing four runs on eight hits and four walks in five innings.
Carlos Carrasco (8-6, 2.64) will make his final start of the season at 6:05 PM ET on Saturday night. He took the loss despite allowing just two runs on seven hits with nine strikeouts over seven and one-third innings. Alex Colome (1-0, 3.63) will counter for the Rays. It will be the third start and fifth appearance overall this season for Colome, who has never faced the Indians.
The final game of the regular season will take place at 1:05 PM ET on Sunday, as Danny Salazar (6-8, 4.25) and Alex Cobb (10-8, 2.75) rematch the 2013 AL Wild Card game. Salazar is looking for his first win since a complete game eight-hit shutout of Detroit on September 3rd. Cobb allowed one run on five hits in seven innings in a win in his last start against Boston.
Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio and Sun Sports will cover all three television broadcasts. The affiliates of the Cleveland Indians Radio Network and the Tampa Bay Rays Baseball Network will handle radio play-by-play presentations.
Cleveland is 77-51 against Tampa all-time. This includes a 43-20 mark at Progressive Field, where the Rays have historically struggled. The Indians have a 34-31 record on the Rays home field.
The Indians have taken ten season series from the Rays in their 17 years of existence. The Rays have won four and the two clubs have split a pair.
This season’s series is tilted in Cleveland’s favor, two games to one, from when the teams met in Tampa back in May.
Tampa Bay will be without outfielder Desmond Jennings and shortstop Yunel Escobar, who were shut down with left knee issues. Also not expected to return is catcher Curt Casali, who is dealing with a concussion.
Michael Brantley will look to enter rare company this weekend as he pursues his 200th hit and 100th RBI of the season. He has hit in 15 straight games, batting .467 with 28 hits and eight RBI, to move into second place in the AL in hits and third place in batting average at .329. Eleven of those games have included multiple hits. A hitless game against Minnesota on September 9th separated this current 15-game streak from the 12-game streak that preceded it. He had six multi-hit games in those dozen. In his last 28 games, he has hit .425 with 48 hits, 12 doubles, a pair of home runs, and 15 RBI.
If he can get one more hit in this final series, he will become the first Indians player ever with 200 hits, 20 homers, 20 stolen bases, and 40 doubles in a season. He would be the first to topple the 200 mark since Kenny Lofton had 210 during the 1996 season and would become just the second player to do so in the Jacobs Field/Progressive Field era.
BY THE NUMBERS
An appearance by reliever Bryan Shaw in this final series will give him sole possession of the most appearances in a single season for a Cleveland pitcher. At 79 games pitched, he is tied with Bob Howry (2005) for the most in club history.
Carlos Santana increased his MLB-leading walk total to 112 on the season during the week. It pushed him to sixth place all-time for single-season walks. He trails only Jim Thome on that list, who had five different seasons with 118 walks or more. Santana is also just two home runs shy of hitting the 100th blast of his Major League career. He has already matched his club record for home runs in a single season by a switch-hitter with 27.
Evan Longoria leads the Rays with 22 home runs and 90 RBI. He enters the weekend batting just. 254, his lowest mark since 2011.
James Loney has hit .311 in September and is on a five-game hitting streak. He is hitting .289 on the season with nine home runs and 68 RBI.
Ben Zobrist has hit in six of his last seven games. He drove in four runs on six hits in his series against Boston and is hitting .325 in his last ten games. The two-time All-Star is hitting .274 for the season.
Tampa Bay hitting coach Derek Shelton should be a familiar face for Indians fans, as he spent time in the Tribe dugout as their hitting coach while on the staff of Eric Wedge.
He began his baseball career as a catcher in the New York Yankees farm system, but after hitting .341 over 46 games of his first two seasons, he had elbow surgery that ended his playing career in 1993.
He spent six years as a coach with the Yankees before heading to the Indians organization. He spent 2003 through the first part of 2005 as the team’s minor league hitting coordinator before taking over as hitting coach for Eddie Murray on June 4th, 2005. He spent seven years with the team in total until he was let go with the rest of Wedge’s coaching staff on October 1st, 2009.
During his time in Cleveland, the Indians offense ranked fifth in the Majors in runs scored.
He was signed by the Rays to be their hitting coach just a few weeks later, becoming the sixth in their team history.
If luck falls their way, the Indians will fall into a play-in Wild Card game at best, but the odds have fallen to 0.7%. If any of the following (one Indians loss, one Athletics win, or three Mariners wins) occurs, that number immediately falls to zero.
If this weekend does indeed spell the end of the season for the Indians, they will return to action on Monday, April 6th, 2015, from Minute Maid Park in Houston. The Rays will host the Baltimore Orioles on the same day.
Thanks for following along all season long on our Cleveland Indians Series Previews. Even if the season does end for Cleveland on Sunday, the coverage at Did The Tribe Win Last Night will continue all fall and winter long to tide you over until baseball hits the field again next February.
Photo: AP Photo/Tony Dejak