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AL wild card preview: Rays and Indians are still trying to stay alive

Mike Oz
Big League Stew

It was quite the race to arrive at this point, but here they are — the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cleveland Indians, clashing in Wednesday's AL wild-card game after spending much of September jockeying for position among a crowded field of hopefuls. Yet, here they are, both still one game away from elimination.

That's the thing about these wild-card games, teams surge to make one and then for one of them, it's all over in a night. The Indians surged all right. They won their final 10 games to scoot past the pack and lock down the top wild-card seed on the last day of the season. The Rays showed, more than anything, that they know how to stay alive. Winning when they had to at season's end, then surviving Game 163 against the Texas Rangers.

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Get through Wednesday's game and, congrats, wild-card winner, now you have to go play the team with the best record in the American League, the Boston Red Sox.

PARTICULARS: First pitch is at 8:07 p.m. ET from Cleveland's Progressive Field. The game airs live on TBS with pregame coverage starting at 7 pm. ET.

ROSTERS: Take a look at the 25 guys Rays manager Joe Maddon has active for Wednesday's game right here. Nothing too shocking. Same with the Indians roster, which you can read about here.

STARTING LINEUPS: Thanks, Twitter.

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PITCHERS: Alex Cobb (11-3, 2.76 ERA) takes the mound for the Rays while rookie Danny Salazar (2-3, 3.12 ERA) gets the ball for the Indians. Both have interesting stories. Salazar being a rookie and getting the call here is noteworthy, if nothing else. He's 23 and started the season in Double-A. This will be his 11th big-league start. But Salazar can crank his fastball up to 100 mph, and when you can do that, you're dangerous no matter how long you've been in the big leagues. Salazar didn't face the Rays at all this season. He had seven or more strikeouts in six starts this season,but only pitched past the sixth inning once. Good thing Indians manager Terry Francona likes to carry a lot of pitchers. He'll have relief ready.

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Cobb's 2013 season will be best remembered for the June game in which he was hit in the headline by a line drive and forced to leave on a stretcher. That is, unless he makes postseason magic on Wednesday. Cobb missed two months after his injury, but came back strong, giving up two or fewer runs in seven of his nine starts since returning from a concussion. He's been particularly sharp recently, pitching 8 1/3 innings on Sept. 21, striking out 12 and giving up five hits and one run. In his final start of the season, he gave us three hits in seven innings and no runs. When Cobb is on, he can rack up the strikeouts. When he's not, his pitch count can get high. Thanks to David Price's complete-game in the AL tiebreaker, at least we know the Rays bullpen is fresh.

PREVIOUSLY: Tampa Bay won the season series between these two teams 4-2, but that's not too meaningful for Wednesday's game. The two teams haven't played since June 2. Their first series of the season was April 5-7.

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THE RAYS NEED TO WATCH OUT FOR: The Indians scoring early. In their last 10 games, the Indians have scored in the first inning in four of them. In three of the games in which they didn't score in the first inning, they then scored in the second inning.

THE INDIANS NEED TO WATCH OUT FOR: Evan Longoria. Which, duh. He's the Rays' best player and he comes into this extremely hot. He hit .414 in the Rays' last seven games with three homers and 11 RBIs, that includes his three-hit performance in Monday's tiebreaker game. He is, however, a career .194 hitter in the postseason.

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FIVE KEY NUMBERS:
58-24 — Total score during the Indians' 10-game winning streak. Keep in mind, however, they were playing the Houston Astros, Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins.

.425 — The Rays winning percentage against teams who made the playoffs this season, which is quite a bit better than Cleveland's (.304).

.630 — Cleveland's winning percentage at home, that's 51-30. Tampa Bay, meanwhile, is exactly .500 on the road.

313/.357/.527 — The batting line for potent Rays rookie Wil Myers on the road this season. He's hitting about 50 points higher on the road and his slugging percentage is better by more than 100 points.

19.7 — Combined K/9 for Cobb and Salazar, a number that's helped because neither pitched a full season. Point being: We could see some Ks in this game if they're feeling it.

The postseason is upon us. Spend it with The Stew.
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