MLB Coverage: Wild-Card Wrap-Up

The Division Series matchups are now set in both leagues, as Tampa Bay joins Pittsburgh as a winner of the wild-card game and both teams will join the six division winners in the best-of-five play that gets rolling on Thursday in the National League and Friday in the American League. Let’s close out the one-and-done rounds with some thoughts on both knockout games.

Tampa Bay 4 Cleveland 0: It was all about the big hits. Tampa Bay got a big one from Desmond Jennings in the fourth, when he hit a two-out, two-run double. Cleveland repeatedly missed chances.

In their own half of the fourth, Ben Zobrist made a diving stop of a ground ball that kept a runner on second from scoring and Asdrubal Cabrera later hit into a bases-loaded double play. The Indians had second and third and no outs in the fifth and didn’t score. They got consecutive one-out singles from Yan Gomes and Lonny Chisenhall–the bottom of the order who combined for five hits–in the seventh and didn’t score.

Alex Cobb wasn’t dominant for Tampa Bay, as all this suggests, but he was clutch. Starting pitching is what separates the Rays from a lot of teams and that was the case here tonight. Tampa will move on to play Boston.

Pittsburgh 6 Cincinnati 2: In the aftermath of this game it become somewhat trendy, at least among people prone to overanalyzing, that if Todd Frazier’s long fly ball to left with two on and two out in the Cincinnati fourth would have stayed a few feet to the right and been fair, this would have been a different game.

That’s undeniably true–since Frazier struck out, those few feet were a three-run difference. It’s also misleading. The ball was kind of a fluky hit to begin with, a towering fly ball that looked more like an extended pop-up than a big hit. It would have been a break for the Reds had it left the yard fair, and might have allowed them to steal a win on a night they were completely outplayed.

Pittsburgh got solo home runs from Marlon Byrd and Russell Martin. They had Johnny Cueto in trouble repeatedly, as the Cincy ace just didn’t look sharp in his third start back from the long summer on the disabled list.

In the meantime, the Cincinnati approach at the plate was awful. Francisco Liriano was outstanding for Pittsburgh, to be sure. But he was aided by Reds’ hitters repeatedly chasing balls away in the dirt. What it all added up to was a night in which the team that played better won, and avoided the one bad break that might have swung it the other way.

TheSportsNotebook’s MLB coverage has previews of the National League Division Series matchups and betting odds online now. Those games begin tomorrow at 5 PM ET with Pirates-Cardinals leading a doubleheader that concludes with Dodgers-Braves. Then it’s a full four-game schedule on Friday as the American League swings into action and we’ll have previews of those matchups coming up at some point on Thursday.