On Saturday night, the Indians and Rays will meet for the second time this season, at Progressive Field. Although they hadn't played each other until Friday, that doesn't mean they aren't aware of one another.
"They are in the (American League) East. That's a good division, and they've held their own,"Indians manager Terry Francona said of the Rays. "They are doing it in an unconventional way. It's unconventional now, but they're not doing it with smoke and mirrors."
The Rays have blazed a new trail in starting pitcher usage by using a relief pitcher to start many of their games, and having a true starting pitcher take over in the second or third inning.
"They've got a lot of good arms, and (manager Kevin) Cash and his staff have done a really good job of getting their guys to buy in," Francona said.
Cash, who played for Francona when he managed Boston, and coached on his staff in Cleveland before being hired to manage the Rays, remains very close to Francona, and the two buddies will send two impressive young pitchers to the mound on Saturday.
For the Rays, it's left-hander Blake Snell, who has become a strong Cy Young Award candidate, which means he, not a reliever, will pitch the first inning -- and as many innings thereafter as he can handle.
Snell (16-5, 2.05), is second in the AL wins and ERA, and his opponents' batting average of .179 also ranks second. In his last start, Snell shut down Boston's powerful lineup, beating the Red Sox 9-1 on Aug. 26. He pitched six innings and allowed two runs and just two hits, with eight strikeouts and two walks.
Snell's Cy Young candidacy has been steadily building since midseason, and it's reflected by his numbers. In his last 16 starts, he is 12-2 with a 1.45 ERA. In his last 10 starts, he is 8-1 with a 1.25 ERA, and in his last five starts, he is 4-0 with a 1.04 ERA.
His last start against the Indians came Aug. 10, 2017, a 4-1 Tampa Bay win in which Snell did not figure in the decision, despite holding Cleveland to one run and four hits in 6 1/3 innings. In two career starts against the Indians, Snell is 0-1 with a 2.08 ERA.
Snell's mound opponent is rookie right-hander Shane Bieber (8-2, 4.52), a control artist who in 79 2/3 innings has struck out 83 and walked just 15. Bieber's last start came Aug. 26, a 12-5 victory over Kansas City in which he pitched 5 1/3 innings, allowing four runs and six hits, with seven strikeouts and no walks.
Bieber, who has never faced the Rays, has had less success in the second half of his rookie season than the first half. In his first seven starts, he was 5-1 with a 3.53 ERA. In his last seven starts, he's 3-1 with a 5.70 ERA.
The Indians added a significant player on Friday, when they acquired Donaldson from the Blue Jays in exchange for a player to be named at a later date. Donaldson has been on the disabled list since May 29 due to a left calf strain. He began a rehab assignment in Class-A Dunedin on Tuesday, appearing in two games.
Donaldson is a three-time All-Star who was the American League MVP in 2015.