The Cleveland Indians will try to continue climbing the ladder in the American League wild-card race when they meet the visiting Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday night in the second game of their three-game series.
The Indians (91-63) have won five in a row to make up 2 1/2 games on the Tampa Bay Rays since Sunday and pull into a tie for the second wild-card spot with eight games left.
Both Cleveland and Tampa Bay are two games behind the Oakland A’s, who hold the top AL wild-card position.
The Phillies (78-74) saw their remote playoff hopes fade further with a 5-2 loss Friday in the series opener. With 10 games left, Philadelphia is five games behind the Milwaukee Brewers for the final National League wild card.
The Indians plan to send right-hander Zach Plesac to the mound Saturday for the 20th start of his rookie season.
Plesac is coming off his first major league shutout, when he blanked the Los Angeles Angels on four hits in an 8-0 win on Sept. 10.
Plesac (8-6, 3.64 ERA) struck out five and walked two, becoming the first Cleveland rookie to throw a shutout since Jeremy Sowers beat the Seattle Mariners 1-0 on July 28, 2006.
It was a welcome rebound after Plesac gave up a total of 10 runs over 10 innings while losing his previous two starts. He was awarded some extra days rest to prepare for Saturday.
“I didn’t try to change anything, I think I just caught a bad stretch,” Plesac said of his poor outings leading up to the shutout. “I went back and focused on my delivery, and I was able to land another pitch that I wasn’t able to before. That opened up the plate for me.”
Plesac will be up against veteran left-hander Jason Vargas, who is hungry for his first win with Philadelphia following his trade from the New York Mets at the end of July. He is 0-3 with a 5.48 ERA in nine starts with the Phillies and seems to be lagging even further behind lately.
Vargas (6-8, 4.48 ERA) has lasted just three innings in each of his past two outings, though they came against two of the better offenses in the major leagues, Atlanta and Boston.
Philadelphia’s defense didn’t help either. Of the nine runs scored by the Braves and Red Sox, three were unearned.
“You’re in a spot where you have to put W’s on the board, and when it doesn’t happen, you feel like you let everybody down,” Vargas said. “Whether it’s one pitch or four pitches, or two errors or no errors, or a hit that we had or a hit that we didn’t have, at this point, the W is all that matters.”
Perhaps facing the Indians for the 20th time in his major league career will help turn things around.
Vargas is 9-5 in his career against Cleveland, putting him in position to notch a 10th win against an opponent for the first time in his major league career.
Vargas started 14 games against the Indians from 2014-17, when he played in the same division with the Kansas City Royals. He went 7-3 in that span, throwing one of his eight career shutouts against the Indians on June 2, 2017.
He hasn’t faced Cleveland since the 2017 season.
–Field Level Media