Rays have earned Indians' respect

Rays have earned Indians' respect

Rays have earned Indians' respect

CLEVELAND -- The Indians won only two of their six meetings with the Rays during the season. They went up against Alex Cobb one time, all the way back in the fifth game of the year, when the right-hander surrendered just four hits and no runs to the Tribe while pitching into the eighth inning.

Needless to say, the Indians have nothing but respect for the Rays, who earned a spot in Wednesday's American League Wild Card Game at Progressive Field, airing at 8 p.m. ET on TBS, by beating the Rangers on the road in Monday's tiebreaker. On Tuesday, Cleveland manager Terry Francona talked about what makes Tampa Bay such a tough team and why Cobb will be so challenging to face.

"They always pitch, they run the bases extremely well, they have some very dangerous hitters and they probably match up better than most teams in the league, if not every team in the league," Francona said. "And by that I mean, even hitters or pitchers, they have guys with splits, and [Rays manager] Joe [Maddon] does it really well. He'll match up. He's not afraid to. They use that to their advantage a lot.

"You've got to be prepared for the unexpected, because he's not afraid to do anything at any time."

After Monday's 5-2 win in Texas, the Rays ended the season with a 92-71 record, good enough for second in the AL East. Tampa Bay has finished with at least 90 wins four years in a row and in five of the past six. The Rays closed the season by winning nine of their final 11 games.

"We respect how they go about the game," Francona said. "You know when you play them, the ball needs to end up where it's supposed to or they can run you into a bigger inning -- and they're good at that. When they get a one- or two-run lead, they get very aggressive and they want you to make mistakes. So you've got to stay one pitch ahead of them, because they're good at that. They go first to third. They score from second. They've always been good at that."

In 22 outings this season, Cobb went 11-3 with a 2.76 ERA. Over 143 1/3 innings, he had 134 strikeouts and 45 walks, with a .228 opponents' average and 1.15 WHIP.

On June 15, Cobb was hit in the head by a line drive and was unable to pitch for two months. In the nine starts since his return, he was 5-1 with a 2.41 ERA.

"We faced him April 6 and he just kind of carved us up. He's good," Francona said of Cobb, who had six strikeouts and three walks across 7 1/3 scoreless innings in that outing. "He's got three pitches that he can throw at any time in the count. ... He's arguably been their best pitcher the last couple months, so we know we have our hands full."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. Mark Emery is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.