Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Alex Cobb pitched like a playoff veteran in his first-ever playoff start, 4-0 winner-take-all AL Wild Card victory against the Cleveland Indians. Cobb needs to maintain this composure to help the Rays beat the Boston Red Sox in the best-of-five ALDS.
Cobb was not extraordinary on Wednesday, but he pitched like Andy Pettitte when there were runners in scoring position. The Indians had nine chances to try to produce a run off him when there was a runner in scoring position, but they only managed to get two hits and produce zero runs.
This is the sign of a pitcher that is able to show composure in a hostile environment — a road playoff elimination game. It takes a pitcher with a special kind of talent and composure to be able to do that because not every pitcher can.
However, the Indians are a much easier team to appear composed against than the Red Sox.
The Red Sox have been a superb playoff team for years. They have made a playoff appearance in seven of the last 11 seasons, including winning two World Series Championships. Unfortunately, for Cobb, they have a very good offense led by designated hitter David Ortiz and second baseman Dustin Pedroia. Their lineup is infamous for producing clutch hits when there are runners in scoring position during the playoffs.
Cobb will need to show that he can be composed against the Red Sox if he allows runners in scoring position in the ALDS. The best thing for an inexperienced pitcher to do in a hostile environment is to have the game go at his pace. The Red Sox hitters are going to want to slow the game down so they can work the count in their favor. Cobb needs to prevent them from doing that if he hopes to win his ALDS start.
Cobb will need to try to get a favorable count against the Red Sox hitters in hopes of getting them to become undisciplined. When a hitter lacks discipline, he tends to chase pitches that are too far or low out of the strike zone. This leads to a lot of strikeouts, and it makes it easier for a pitcher to operate.
Very few pitchers have been able to show composure against the Red Sox in the playoffs, but Cobb can be one of those few in the upcoming series.