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How Tribe will line up pitching down the stretch

Breakdown of how Cleveland may handle potential tiebreaker games
@MandyBell02
September 25, 2019

CHICAGO – The rotation for the final series of the season is set. The Indians had been hesitant to announce their starting pitching plans for the three-game set in Washington, D.C., this weekend, waiting to see how the playoff standings would shake out over the past week. But the club

CHICAGO – The rotation for the final series of the season is set.

The Indians had been hesitant to announce their starting pitching plans for the three-game set in Washington, D.C., this weekend, waiting to see how the playoff standings would shake out over the past week. But the club has decided to stay on schedule, pitching Zach Plesac on Friday, Adam Plutko on Saturday and Mike Clevinger on Sunday.

Because they will be playing in a National League park, both Plesac and Plutko hopped in the cages prior to Wednesday’s game against the White Sox to get some swings under their belts.

“I hope Plutko pitches well, because he stinks,” Indians manager Terry Francona said with a laugh. “Plesac actually looks like he knows how to -- I mean he hit some balls. Plutko, he’s terrible. You can tell him I said that, too.”

Bieber for the Wild Card?

Nothing is set in stone, and the Indians know they have not clinched any form of postseason berth yet. However, if the team would clinch an American League Wild Card spot, the current rotation lines up 24-year-old Shane Bieber to start the game on Wednesday, Oct. 2.

But what if there’s a tie in the Wild Card race?

Let’s break this down.

Two-team tiebreak for second Wild Card
If the Indians finish the regular season tied for the second Wild Card spot with either the A's or Rays, Cleveland would play Game 163 on the road. The winner of that game would then go to play the club that clinched the top spot in the Wild Card Game.

Three-team tiebreak
Here’s where all of our heads start to hurt. If it ends in a three-way tie, the A’s, Rays and Indians will choose in that order (because of head-to-head records) to be “Club A,” “Club B” or “Club C.” Let’s take a look at what those options include:

Club A: Hosts Club B on Monday. If they win, they advance to the Wild Card on Wednesday. If they lose, they travel to Club C on Tuesday and the winner of that game makes it to the Wild Card Game.

Benefits of Club A: First game is at home and they have a safety net of getting a second chance if they lose the first tiebreak game.

Club B: Travels to Club A on Monday. If they win, they are in the Wild Card on Wednesday. If they lose, they travel to Club C on Tuesday and the winner of that game advances.

Benefits of Club B: They have two chances to advance to the Wild Card, however, both games will be on the road.

Club C: Hosts the loser of the Club A vs. Club B game. The winner advances to the Wild Card. The loser is eliminated.

Benefits of Club C: They have a day off on Monday to rest their pitchers and get to play at home, but they only have one chance to advance.

What’s likely for the Indians?

It’s assumed that the A’s would choose to be Club A to get two chances to secure a Wild Card spot, including the first at home. It’s the Rays who will determine the Indians’ schedule.

If the Rays choose to be Club B, the Indians would have an off-day on Monday and would host the loser of the Rays-A’s game on Tuesday. They would have just one game to advance. In that case, Bieber would likely pitch Game 163 and Aaron Civale would handle the Wild Card Game, should Cleveland advance.

If the Rays choose to be Club C to have the home game and the day off, the Indians would head to Oakland on Monday with (it seems safe to assume) Bieber on the mound. If they would lose, they’d then travel to Tampa Bay on Tuesday for another shot to advance. It seems likely that Civale would take the mound in Game 164. If they’d advance to the Wild Card Game on Wednesday, it would then be Plesac’s turn in the rotation.

There’s a lot of scenarios over the final five regular-season games, and the Indians are doing their best to not get caught looking ahead.

“I just think the best way to get there is to try to conquer what’s right in front of you, which is the White Sox tonight,” Francona said. “It appears that we’re going to have to keep winning. So, talking about four days from now, it just doesn’t seem to help. If it did, I’d do it. I just don’t see an advantage.”

Mandy Bell covers the Indians for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MandyBell02.