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Rays ride deep rotation, 'pen into postseason

Tampa Bay has four playoff-caliber starters; Cobb starts Wild Card Game

ARLINGTON -- It's back to the postseason for the Rays, who after facing a must-win situation on Monday in a tiebreaker with the Rangers, face another in the first game of the playoffs against the Indians in the one-game American League Wild Card Game.

Monday night's 5-2 win over Texas capped a furious finish that saw Tampa Bay win nine of its last 11 games.

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Manager Joe Maddon has stated his preference that the two Wild Card teams play a best two-out-of-three series instead of a one-and-done, but if the Rays do advance through this sudden-death situation, they could be a dangerous team in the AL Division Series and beyond.

Alex Cobb will start the Wild Card Game, on Wednesday at 8:07 p.m. ET on TBS, opposed by Cleveland right-hander Danny Salazar.

Salazar, 23, went 2-3 with a 3.12 ERA in 10 starts this season; he has not faced the Rays.

Meanwhile, Cobb is 1-0 against the Indians this season after holding them to no runs on four hits in 7 1/3 innings on April 4 at Tropicana Field.

The Rays boast a deep rotation, with David Price -- whose complete-game effort was instrumental in winning the tiebreaker -- Cobb, Matt Moore and Chris Archer occupying the top four spots. All have playoff-type stuff and are capable of shutting down any lineup on any given night.

Closer Fernando Rodney leads a quality bullpen into the postseason. Rodney did not have the kind of season he experienced in 2012, but nobody thought he could given the fact that it was the best season by a closer. He struggled at different points throughout 2013 but finished strong, and there's no reason to believe he won't be able to deliver in October.

The rest of the 'pen should be ready and rested considering the number of extra pitchers the Rays were able to employ down the stretch. Price's complete game helped the relief corps as well.

Tampa Bay has now made the playoffs four times in six years, posting six winning seasons in the process. The Rays first made the playoffs in 2008, and advanced to the AL Championship Series by taking three out of four from the White Sox in the Division Series.

Once in the ALCS, the Rays were matched against the division-rival Red Sox, against whom they had fought all summer before eventually claiming the AL East crown.

Led by the pitching of ALCS MVP Matt Garza, the Rays won Game 7, 3-1, at Tropicana Field to advance to the World Series, which they lost to the Phillies in five games.

The Rays did not make the playoffs in 2009 but came back strong in 2010, winning their second AL East title. Unfortunately, they bowed out in the Division Series against the Rangers, who finished off the Rays in Game 5 at Tropicana Field.

Although the Rays again lost to the Rangers after making the 2011 postseason as the AL Wild Card, that season will never be forgotten due to the way the Rays made the playoffs on a night remembered simply as "Game 162."

The Rays defeated the Yankees that night after trailing, 7-0, coming from behind and winning on Evan Longoria's walk-off homer just minutes after the Red Sox lost to the Orioles, thereby earning the Rays a spot in the playoffs.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for

Tampa Bay Rays, Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, David Price, Fernando Rodney