By: Adam Tortelli
No team in the MLB is hotter than the Cleveland Indians.
The Tribe feasted off of a weak schedule down the stretch, ending the season on a 10-game winning streak and going on a remarkable run of 21-6 in the month of September.
With the likes of veteran designated-hitter Jason Giambi and established manager Terry Francona, the clubhouse failed to crumble under pressure and seized the opportunity to host the lone wild card playoff game for a chance to take on the Red Sox.
Before looking at what might be, we must focus on the task at hand.
Tonight the Indians host the Tampa Bay Rays, who are coming off of a 5-2 victory over the Texas Rangers in Monday’s tiebreaker game.
The Rays had stretches of looking like the best team in baseball this year.
Despite not being able to keep pace with the Red Sox for control of the American League East, Tampa Bay still managed to keep its ship afloat and crack the postseason barrier.
Though not as star-studded as other teams in their division (Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees), the Rays established a small market contender over the past few years — much like what the Indians aim to do.
Rookie Danny Salazar will take the bump and pitch for the Indians in undoubtedly the biggest game any Cleveland team has played since the homecoming of Lebron James in early 2011.
In Salazar’s first-ever career start, he only surrendered a couple of hits before being limited on his pitch count. Salazar’s season is also highlighted by nearly shutting down the Detroit Tigers before the best hitter in baseball, Miguel Cabrera, smashed a home run (Cabrera had struck out three times before).
Third baseman Evan Longoria jumps out as a player who Salazar must keep an eye on in the opposing lineup, as he can carry the Rays on his back in big games.
Longoria went 3-4 with a home run and 2 RBI on Monday against the Rangers.
Salazar must watch out for the powerful corner infielder every time he (Longoria) steps into the batter’s box and adjust his pitching accordingly.
On the other hand, there is not a single batter that Tampa Bay starter Alex Cobb can easily avoid in the Tribe batting order.
Second baseman and first- time all star Jason Kipnis is rarely cold but not always impossible to handle.
Catcher Carlos Santana is powerful but seldom bursts out all at once.
The list continues from first baseman Nick Swisher, to shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera (the only remaining player from the 2007 playoff run), to outfielders Michael Brantley and Michael Bourn.
Much like the entire regular season, opposing pitchers will have to choose their battles wisely and hope to not get burned by the Indians batter with whom they make a mistake pitch.
It is not every day that Progressive Field is sold out, but the Indians will surely look to capitalize on local excitement and keep their momentum going as they try to show that they deserve to play among baseball’s elite.