I spent most of Monday night actively not rooting for either Tampa or Texas. Silly as it sounds, I felt like if I rooted for one team thinking it would be a better match up for the Tribe, then that team would win, come into Cleveland Wednesday and steamroll the Indians as a karmic “be careful what you wish for” punishment. Such is the life of a Cleveland Indians fan: I couldn’t even bring myself to root for the team that went 1-5 against the Indians and was starting a guy at DH who had been suspended for the last two months. But now we know it’s Tampa Bay.
All year in my recaps I’ve tried to have fun with small sample sizes, and, of course, no sample size is smaller than an “anything can happen, winner-take-all” playoff game. Six games isn’t a much larger area to consider – and it gets especially dicey when almost four full months have passed since the teams met – but let’s have fun with small sample sizes anyway as we look back on the season series against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Fast facts: Tampa won the season series 4-2 and outscored the Indians 30-23. The Indians had a .283 on base percentage, .393 slugging and .676 OPS against the Rays (on the season the Indians’ line was .327/.410/.737) with seven homers and 2-4 in stolen base attempts. The Rays had a .329/.392/.721 line against the Indians (very much in keeping with their regular season marks of .329/.408/.737) with six home runs and 3-3 in steals (though most of those were long before Yan Gomes became the everyday catcher).
The Indians had a 4.67 ERA against Tampa, with 27 of the 30 runs allowed being earned, striking out 7.6 per nine innings with 1.404 WHIP. The Indians gave up a startling four walks per game, though we’ll get to the main culprit of that stat shortly*. The Rays had a 3.91 ERA, allowing zero unearned runs, striking out 8.3 per nine and allowing only 15 walks with a WHIP of just 1.132.
But as we mentioned earlier, in a six game sample size one or two games can really sway the numbers. Let’s take a quick look back at each individual game.
Game One (April 5): Tampa 4, Cleveland 0 (W: Moore, L McAllister)
Just two words to say about this one: Matt Moore. He dominated the Indians, who managed just two hits and struck out 11 times in the game (eight against Moore). Zach McAllister, before he found his mid-season groove, had one of those shaky starts that felt much worse than it was on paper, going 6 innings giving up four runs, two earned. The offense had its ups and downs all year, and was particularly feast or famine during April. Plus Moore is just good and I’m glad we won’t have to see him.
Game Two (April 6): Tampa 6, Cleveland 0 (W: Alex Cobb, L: Bauer)
Oh Trevor Bauer, how I was wrong about you this season. I completely expected Bauer to shine the way Corey Kluber and Danny Salazar have. Instead, what we saw were too many games like this one. Bauer walked seven, including the first four batters of the game *(see above) and allowed three runs in five innings.
Bauer is not in the equation this October, but the Tampa starter that day most certainly is. Alex Cobb, who will take the hill Wednesday for the Rays, went 7.1 shutout-innings allowing four hits, walking three, striking out six. The offense is going much better now, but Cobb took care of business that night against a lineup featuring only one player, Lou Marson, who won’t be on the postseason roster.
Game Three (April 7): Cleveland 13, Tampa 0 (W: Masterson, L: Price)
After disappearing for two nights, the Indians offense returned with a vengeance (remember when they spent the better part of the first half battering around former Cy Young winners). David Price gave up eight runs in five innings and Lonnie Chisenhall, Carlos Santana, Michael Bourn and the now-departed Mark Reynolds all homered, with Santana going 5-5. Justin Masterson, who could emerge from the bullpen Wednesday to pitch a high-leverage inning or two, was masterful in seven shutout innings, allowing just two hits and three walks while striking out eight.
Cleveland departed Tampa 3-3.
Game Four (May 31 to June 1): Tampa 9, Cleveland 2 (W: Jamey Wright, L: Barnes, Sv: Ramos)
The two teams came into this game with identical 29-24 records.
This was one of the more memorable, if ugly, games of the season thanks to an inexplicable series of rain delays totaling more than five hours – with a gap of seven hours and forty minutes from first pitch to last pitch – ending deep into Saturday morning. Kluber started and threw two scoreless innings before turning it over to Scott Barnes, who coughed up five runs in the top of the third and that was essentially all she wrote.
Win or lose, I’m not sure you could take anything away from this one … and fortunately the Wednesday forecast looks clear and calm.
Game Five (June 1): Cleveland 5, Tampa 0 (W: Jimenez, L: Archer)
After his magical September (and overall post All-Star break) performance, it’s funny to think how shocked many of us were to see Ubaldo Jimenez turn in this gem: 8 innings, four hits, one walk, seven Ks, and 72 of 108 pitches for strikes. It was only the second time in his Indians’ tenure he’d pitched into the eighth and the first time many of us thought the pitcher we traded for might still be in there.
The offense got to former farmhand Chris Archer for five runs in four-plus innings before Alex Torres shut the Indians down on one hit over the final four. Torres is an arm the Indians should expect to see, finishing the year with a 1.71 ERA in 58 innings and more than a strikeout per inning, though he gave up five of his 12 runs in September.
Game Six (June 2): Tampa 11, Cleveland 3 (W: Hellickson, L: McAllister)
Despite the numbers, it’s not exactly fair to say Zach McAllister had a bad run against Tampa. Yes, he was knocked around for five runs, four earned, in 4.1 innings, but less than a week later he hit the DL with the sprained finger and didn’t return until July 23. The pen didn’t pick up their injured comrade, with Nick Hagadone and Rich Hill allowing five runs combined. The Indians got to Jeremy Hellickson for nine hits and three runs in five innings, but the Tampa pen again shut the door, allowing just two hits in the final four innings.
So what, if anything, can we take away from this look back at the season series? Personally, after going over the game-by-game details I feel – maybe not better because Tampa is still very dangerous – but at least less bad. Throw out the rain soaked game and Z-Mac clearly battling a serious injury and the series is much closer to even compared to what the overall numbers would suggest. Of course, you could argue we should do the same with Price’s clunker.
The Indians fortunately won’t see Price or Moore, but must face Cobb, who owned them in his one start this year. On the other hand, the Rays’ bullpen, which was a huge weapon in many of the games against the Tribe, is really struggling down the stretch.
Just goes to show how much changes over the course of 162 games. In one game, anything can happen, and I can’t wait to see how it plays out.