Major League Baseball

Rays look to continue stranglehold on Indians

MLB5INDIANS (79-57) AT RAYS (79-58)
1:10 p.m. ET; FS-SUN, ST-OH, MLB.TV

The Tampa Bay Rays (-1.5) would like to keep the Cleveland Indians (+1.5) under their thumb.

Winners of five of six meetings in the season series, the Rays aim to complete a three-game sweep of the visiting Indians on Sunday afternoon in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Tampa Bay certainly would welcome a repeat performance of Saturday’s power display, during which it flexed its muscles with four homers in a 9-6 victory over Cleveland.

In winning their third straight game overall Saturday, the Rays (79-58) sit a percentage point behind Oakland (78-57) for the second wild card in the American League. The Indians are clinging to the top wild card.

“We feel good about our chances,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash told reporters about his team’s playoff hopes. “We’re getting closer to being healthy, but the guys that are in this clubhouse right now active, playing, are capable of stringing together a good month.

“We’re certainly pleased with the effort level and the way guys have competed for five months. Now they get to go compete really hard for the sixth.”

Travis d’Arnaud homered on Saturday to extend his hitting streak to five games while Ji-Man Choi also went deep to improve to 8-for-15 over his last four contests.

Tommy Pham, who also homered on Saturday, revealed a refreshing new drink that may be responsible for the success.

“I made a smoothie for me and (d’Arnaud) today, and he said before we took it, ‘If we get homers, we’ve got to keep making them,'” Pham said. “And we won. So, deal.”

Cleveland’s Carlos Santana, who belted a two-run homer on Saturday, would love to carry over success in August over to the new month. He went 35-for-100 in August with eight of his club-best 31 homers.

“If he hit four home runs (on Sunday), I guess I’d be a little surprised, but it wouldn’t bother me,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He’s had a heck of a year, and I don’t see why it won’t continue.”

Santana is 2-for-5 with a pair of doubles in his career against Tampa Bay right-hander Charlie Morton (13-6, 3.11 ERA), who will get the nod on Sunday.

Morton fell to 0-2 in his last three starts on Tuesday after yielding six runs on seven hits in four innings of a 15-1 shellacking at Houston.

The 35-year-old aims to rebound at home, where he owns a 6-3 mark with a 2.68 ERA in 13 starts.

Morton improved to 3-2 with a 3.26 ERA in five career starts against Cleveland on May 25 after allowing one run on three hits while striking out 10 in six innings of a 6-2 win.

Cleveland right-hander Adam Plutko (6-3, 4.34) will bid for his third win in four starts when he takes the mound in the series finale.

Plutko allowed one run on three hits with a career-high nine strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings in a 10-1 victory at Detroit on Tuesday.

The 27-year-old had a regrettable day in his lone career start against Tampa Bay on May 23, permitting seven runs on 12 hits — including four homers — in a 7-2 setback.

–Field Level Media

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