Circumstances couldn’t be any more different when the Indians and Devil Rays meet in the start of a three-game series at Tropicana Field on Friday.
Cleveland (54-66) is playing Tampa Bay (48-73) for the first time since the teams met at Jacobs Field from Sept. 27-29.
The Indians began that series leading in the AL wild card race. However, they lost two of three against the Devil Rays before being swept by the Chicago White Sox in the final series of the year and eliminated from contention.
Cleveland likely won’t be facing any drama in the final week this season. The Indians have endured a difficult season after winning 93 games a year ago and are in fourth place in the AL Central, 18 games behind the AL wild card-leading White Sox.
With little to play for, Cleveland has opted to give youngsters like Ryan Garko and Shin-Soo Choo more playing time. Garko is hitting .313 (10-for-32) in 11 games while Choo—acquired last month from Seattle for Ben Broussard—had a seven-game hitting streak from Aug. 6-13.
The Indians continue a nine-game road trip after salvaging the finale of a three-game set in Minnesota. Paul Byrd pitched a seven-hitter and Hector Luna had a go-ahead RBI triple as Cleveland halted a five-game road slide with a 3-2 victory over the Twins on Thursday.
Cleveland will send C.C. Sabathia (8-8, 3.29) to the mound, hoping he can continue his dominance over the Devil Rays. The left-hander is 6-1 with a 2.29 ERA in seven career starts against them.
Despite a deceptively low 2.81 ERA, he’s struggled to get wins since the All-Star break, going 1-4. He’s twice allowed more than 10 hits in a start, but has given up only one run in his last three starts.
Sabathia allowed a run and five hits over eight innings, but did not get a decision in a 5-4 victory over Kansas City on Sunday.
Sabathia is 4-3 with a 2.37 ERA in 10 road starts this year.
The Devil Rays, who have yet to record a winning season in their history, lost for the 23rd time in 32 games after a 6-2 defeat to Toronto on Thursday.
Third baseman B.J. Upton left in the third inning with a strained left shoulder.
“When it happened, I didn’t really panic because it’s happened before … every once in a while,” he said. “It’s a little strain. It will be up to the coaching staff and training staff when I’ll be in there again.”
Tampa Bay will also send a left-hander to the mound in Casey Fossum (6-5, 4.95), who has pitched well at home this year going 4-2 with a 3.29 ERA in 12 starts.
Fossum is 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA in three career starts against the Indians, a club he hasn’t faced since 2003 when he was with Boston.