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Game Preview; Tuesday (9/27) vs. Cleveland

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Rays (65-91) at Cleveland (92-64)
7:05; Jacobs Field
RAYS TV/PAX

PITCHING MATCHUP:

LH Scott Kazmir (9-9, 3.85)

RH Scott Elarton (11-7, 4.38)

KEYS TO THE GAME:
Rays hitters-Look for the home run ball
Kazmir-Sigh......limit the walks

MORE GAMES:
Wednesday-at Cleveland (McClung)
Thrusday-at Cleveland (Fossum)
Friday-vs. Baltimore (Waechter)

RAYS LINEUP:
SS Lugo
LF Crawford
2B Cantu (claps, very good Lou)
RF Huff (In RF? Ahead of Gomes in lineup?)
DH Gomes (Looks like Lou got the bong out)
1B Lee
3B Gonzalez
C Hall
CF Gathright

GO RAYS!!!!!!!!!!


Rays (65-91) at Cleveland (92-64)
7:05; Jacobs Field
RAYS TV/PAX

Well, they're getting ready to come down the stretch, cross the finish line, and make the owners of their winning tickets happy. Oh excuse me, I was writing a piece for an  Indians blog. But, if we want to continue with the greyhound/horse racing analogy, the Rays are still waaaaaay back in the pack, and won't cross the finish line until January 16th. But no betting tickets will be ripped, because no one expected the Rays to finish first, hell, not even qualify for a superfecta.

But as we dawn on the fian  lmeaningful series of the season, there was a lot to look back on, and partially because of my involvement in the Rays' online circles, this has been the best year yet. Because it is the people who make the Rays what they are.

I have been both in team circles and fan circles this year, and there could not be a better bunch of people to sit around and talk baseball with. From  Dave and Andy, who never brushed me aside like some people in their position would do, all the way down to message boards and on blogs, this season has been full of great expierences.

It has been full of ups AND downs, without question, but for the most part I have had the greatest ride this year. And it is all because of the people. Staying up until 1 am posting in a game thread for a meaningless game out west, being in the radio booth, and catching a home run ball THEN THROWING IT BACK.

For me, this season has been great, full of great memories, and great expierences. And I  just  want to let each and every one of you, be it on RaysBaseball, or people I have met in person, team officials and fans alike how much this season has meant to me as we dawn upon the end. Thank you very much for all of my expierences this year, starting on January 15th when tickets went on sale, and I made my first post as a Rays blogger. This past year has been a wonderful ride, and I would like to thank each and every one of you for it. And may future years generate even better years (hopefully with more winning).

BEHIND ENEMY LINES: CLEVELAND-Well, we couldn't have possibly picked a worse time to face the Indians. The Tribe has just vaulted ahead of St. Louis, and is now the best team in baseball accoriding to Jay Jaffe's Prospectus Hit List. The Tribe have been one of the hottest teams in baseball since the Rays last saw them in a four game set at Tropicana Field.

The Tribe currently lead the AL Wild Card race, and are just 2 GB of Chicago in the division. They will still face stiff competition from Boston/New York for the Wild Card, however. The Indians are a combined 37-13 since the start of August, and have been lead by 1B/DH Travis Hafner.

Hafner has been one of the AL's best power hitters in that span, and is now up to 32 long balls and 106 RBI this year. In fact, last week Hafner went through a stretch in which he hit a long ball in six straight games, and had 10 extra base hits.

The Tribe have been a power machine, bested only by Texas, and have five players with 20 or more homers, and Ben Broussard has 19. Almost the entire team is hot, Grady Sizemore leads the AL in post All-Star Break runs  scored, and C Victor Martinez is hitting .389 since the break, the best BA in the majors over that span.

Despite all this, the Rays lead the season series 4-3, and need one win to clinch a tie in the season set. The Tribe lead the all-time set 40-21, and the Rays have never liked Jacobs Field, as they are 10-21 there, though they did sweep the Tribe in Cleveland in early August.

The best final season matchup in baseball? Forget Yankees/Sox, the White Sox and Tribe duke it out in a three gamer this weekend, though I know I'll have some begging to differ in favor of Rays/O's.

PITCHING MATCHUP:

LH Scott Kazmir (9-9, 3.85)

RH Scott Elarton (11-7, 4.38)

BREAKDOWN: Well, if Kaz shatters his elbow next year and is sidelined until 2008 because of TJ surgery, we can point to this  week as a  sample of why. Lou actually shuffled Kaz and Seth McClung's starts TO ENSURE elbow problems because Kaz gets double duty this week. If you don't get where I'm coming from, check his stats and compare his previous IP high to this year.

Anyways, it looked like it would be a long outing for Kaz last time out, as he surrendered three runs early and allowed the Red Sox to bat around in the second inning. But Kaz calmed his wild self down and rebounded to go 5.2 innings, giving up four runs on seven hits including a home run.

As the season goes along though, Kaz's command has slipped, as he has walked ten and struck out seven in his last two starts. He'll need to check the free passes at the door to give the Rays any sort of fighting chance against this Cleveland lineup.

You have to wonder though, which Kaz will show up? The one who shut out Cleveland over six innings on August 14th? Or the one who was pulled after giving up eight runs (four earned) in 2.1 innings last time out against the Tribe. Kaz needs five strikeouts to set the Rays' all-time record, and for my $25 sake, it has better be the former that shows up.

Taking the mound for the Indians will be Scott Elarton, a nothing special, innings eating veteran who has been consistenly okay for the Tribe in their rotation. At 174.2 mostly solid innings this year, Elarton has been a bargain for Cleveland, and is just they tupe of pitcher I hope we can strike gold on this offseason.

The bad news for us? Like Paul Byrd last Friday, he has a microscopic ERA this month, to the tune of 0.92. In fact, his value to Cleveland reached a pinnacle last time out against the White Sox, shutting out the Sox over 7.1 innings on five hits. He has won all four decisions this month, helping the Indians in their chase against Chicago.

So we had better hunker down for a good ole fashioned pitcher's duel, right? To quote Lee Corso "Not so fast, my friend". In Elarton's  two previous outings against the Rays this season, he has given up 11 runs on 14 hits over 6.2 innings, including a start in Cleveland in which he gave up three home runs over three innings. Just the opposite of Kazmir, the Elarton of last month for my sake.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The bottom line is, I've got $25 riding on the Rays sweeping this series. Stupid bet? I call it a bet on a hinch. We've done it once, why not again. Anyways, aside from my own selfish purposes, the recurring theme with Kazmir holds true tonight: limit the walks. He'll have his hands full already with that Cleveland lineup, he does not need to be putting hoards of runners on base.

As for the Rays' hitters, it is very simple: look for the home run ball. The Rays have seen first hand how the home run ball appears out of Elarton's hand, and the righty is sixth in the AL in home runs allowed. Let's (read: I) hope the Rays can send a few balls in the direction of that left field home run porch.

Finally, I have one last personal message to deliver should my uncle stumble upon this article:

RAYS SWEEP THE INDIANS: WATCH IT HAPPEN

KEYS TO THE GAME:
Rays hitters-Look for the home run ball
Kazmir-Sigh......limit the walks

MORE GAMES:
Wednesday-at Cleveland (McClung)
Thrusday-at Cleveland (Fossum)
Friday-vs. Baltimore (Waechter)

MORE GAMES:
Wednesday-at Cleveland (McClung)
Thrusday-at Cleveland (Fossum)
Friday-vs. Baltimore (Waechter)

RAYS LINEUP:
SS Lugo
LF Crawford
2B Cantu (claps, very good Lou)
RF Huff (In RF? Ahead of Gomes in lineup?)
DH Gomes (Looks like Lou got the bong out)
1B Lee
3B Gonzalez
C Hall
CF Gathright

GO RAYS!!!!!!!!!!