What are these two teams even doing here?

The Indians and Tampa Bay Rays will play the American League wild-card game Wednesday at Progressive Field. Tampa Bay ranks 28th out of 30 major-league teams in payroll size. The Indians are 21st.

“Once the game starts, the dollar signs go out the window,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I have immensely enjoyed this team this year, and it had nothing to do with money. It's about the character of this team and the characters on this team.”

“I've said for a year that once they eliminated PEDs in baseball it would level the playing field, and it would allow us to compete and win,” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. “People make a big thing about the money deal, but in order to survive with less money, we need pitching because we can't bludgeon other teams to death offensively.

“I don't care what anyone else spends. I care about having the pitching to compete.”

Indians infielder Mike Aviles said there are no guarantees for the big-spending teams.

“You can spend all the money in the world, and it doesn't guarantee you'll make the playoffs,” Aviles said. “I think it's good for baseball that the smaller markets are doing better.”

 

Maddon on Francona

Francona and Maddon are two of the most respected managers in the game, and both men are big fans of the other.


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“I'm a big Tito fan. I'm not surprised by the job he's done here,” Maddon said. “They've had some nice players here for a while. But it starts with the front office and with ownership. They got the players, and Tito put it together. He has great people skills, great leadership skills and a great sense of humor. I'm not surprised at all that he's done this.”

 

Francona on Maddon

Francona said playing Maddon's teams are always a challenge.

“They always pitch and run the bases extremely well,” Francona said. “They have some dangerous hitters, and their pitchers and hitters match up well with you because they have good splits (vs. right-handers and left-handers). You've got to be prepared for the unexpected because Joe will do anything at any time.”

Pen pals

Tampa Bay comes into Wednesday's game with a well-rested bullpen. The Rays got a complete game from starter David Price in their 5-2 win over Texas in the tiebreaker game Monday, and Tampa Bay had a day off Tuesday.

“Having two days off for our 'pen is big because managers are always worried about their bullpen,” Maddon said. “I think about it when I wake up in the morning, I think about it when I ride my bike. I think about my 'pen all day because that's the group that is going to get you to the last game of the year and win it.”

 

Game plan

With closer Chris Perez no longer the Indians' closer, Francona was asked how he will handle the ninth inning Wednesday should the Indians get there with the lead.

“It will depend on how we got there,” he said. “With Masty, (Justin Masterson), it might be we could bring him into the game in the seventh inning and let him go as long as he can. It could also depend on the score, and who is hitting in the ninth.”

If Francona goes with a conventional one-inning closer if the Indians are leading late, it could be Joe Smith.

“It doesn't matter who pitches the ninth — we've just got to get outs,” Smith said. “Whoever's name is called, he has to get outs. It doesn't matter who pitches.”

 

Scouting report

Alex Cobb, who will start for the Rays, is 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA in three career starts vs. the Indians.

“I think he's one of the best pitchers in either league,” Maddon said. “He has elite stuff to get right-handers and left-handers out, and he is a (James) Shields-like competitor."

Cobb likes the team he is pitching for.

“We're a complete baseball team,” he said. “Offensively, defensively and pitching.  In all three phases we're at the top of our game. We are a dangerous team.”

 

Stat attack

Career batting averages of Indians hitters vs. Cobb:

Mike Aviles .000 (0-for-7), Michael Bourn .143 (1-for-7), Michael Brantley .000 (0-for-5), Asdrubal Cabrera .250 (2-for-8), Lonnie Chisenhall .333 (1-for-3), Jason Kipnis .167 (1-for-6), Ryan Raburn .375 (3-for-8), Carlos Santana .429 (3-for-7), Nick Swisher .300 (3-for-10).

No player on the Indians roster has ever hit a home run off Cobb.

 

Walking wounded

Both center fielders are battling leg injuries. The Indians' Michael Bourn was testing a strained calf during Tuesday night's workout and will apparently be a game-time decision.

Tampa Bay's Desmond Jennings is battling a strained hamstring. He was removed from Monday's game in the ninth inning, but Maddon said Tuesday Jennings is “80-plus percent.”

 

Last word

Francona was asked if the Indians' 10-game winning streak counts for anything going into tonight's game.

“It goes as far as Cobb,” he said. “If we don't get any hits against Cobb, it (the winning streak) doesn't matter. It starts fresh (Wednesday) for both teams.”