The Cleveland Indians are running out of time in their quest to make the playoffs for the fourth straight season.
They’ll enter the finale of their three-game series against the visiting Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday evening a game back of the Tampa Bay Rays for the second wild-card spot from the American League with seven games left.
The Indians had won six in a row to pull into a tie with the Rays, but gave up a three-run lead on Saturday night against the Phillies and lost 9-4.
At the same time, the Rays were celebrating their second straight extra-inning walk-off win against the Boston Red Sox.
The series finale between the Indians and Phillies might come down to a pair of starting pitchers who grew up in adjacent Southern California cities and were drafted out of high school in the same year by the Houston Astros.
Adam Plutko is scheduled to take the mound for the Indians, while Vince Velasquez is set to start for Philadelphia.
Plutko was born in Upland before becoming a sixth-round draft pick out of Glendora High School in 2010. Velasquez spent his senior year about 10 miles away at Garey High, where the Montclair native was drafted in the second round.
Plutko chose to attend UCLA, while Velasquez signed with the Astros.
After playing briefly with Houston in 2015, Velasquez was traded to the Phillies following that season.
Plutko’s stock dropped at UCLA before Cleveland selected him in the 11th round of the 2013 MLB Draft.
Plutko started this season in the minors, but has been a regular member of the rotation since mid-May.
Recent numbers suggest Plutko hasn’t done much out of the ordinary, as his only two wins in his past six starts have come against the Detroit Tigers, but he has given the Indians a chance in his past three outings.
They’ve taken advantage of that, winning his past three starts, even though Plutko was credited with just one of those victories.
Plutko (7-4, 4.34 ERA) has never faced the Phillies in his three-year career, and his only other start this season against a National League opponent came at the New York Mets on Aug. 21, when he allowed two runs and four hits in six innings. He did not receive a decision in the 4-3 loss.
“We need to play our best brand of baseball, no matter who our opponent is,” Plutko told reporters after his last outing. “No matter if it’s a winning team or a losing team.”
Velasquez (7-7, 4.89 ERA) has benefited from excellent run support in recent outings, posting a 3-0 record in his past six starts with a lofty 6.84 ERA,
His most recent start was impressive, however.
Velasquez held the NL East-leading Atlanta Braves to two runs and five hits in five innings on Tuesday, earning the win in the 5-4 victory in Atlanta.
“A huge step for him mentally,” teammate Rhys Hoskins told reporters afterward. “To know that in a big, big game, in a hostile environment, he can kind of reel it back in. We’ve seen it go the opposite way.”
Velasquez has made two career appearances against the Indians, but none since throwing six shutout innings against them on May 1, 2016.
–Field Level Media