With the Tigers seven games back and in second-place, the Indians are poised to make the postseason as the AL Central winner this season. Unfortunately though, the long season has taken a toll on their pitching staff and, according to Jeff Passan, the team is mulling over a three-man rotation come postseason time.
After getting hit in the pitching hand by a line drive over the weekend, Carlos Carrasco’s season was declared ‘over’ by manager Terry Francona. Furthermore, earlier this month, the team had already lost Danny Salazar and the odds seem slim on his return happening this season as well.
Sources: Cleveland discussing three-man postseason rotation with Kluber and Bauer on short rest, Tomlin/Clevinger piggyback or alternating.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) September 19, 2016
Considered one of the most elite pitching staffs in all of baseball, the loss of Carrasco and Salazar would be insurmountable for many teams. On the plus side however, the Indians appear to be ready and willing to lean on a league ace in Kluber and an impressive breakout from Bauer. It appears that Josh Tomlin and Mike Clevinger will share the workload of the third starter.
Honestly, it doesn’t appear that the Indians have many options available to them with two of their best starters on the disabled list. To be fair though, many teams tend to ride primarily three starters during the postseason with a fourth making appearances in the event all three are in need of rest.
For instance, the Kansas City Royals—the 2015 World Series Champions—rode Yordano Ventura, Edinson Volquez, and Johnny Cueto for 14 of their postseason games while Chris Young—their only other starter—made just two. Teams with starting pitching wealth will elect to use a fourth starter more often, but that luxury has evaporated for the Indians.
While sub-optimal, this is by no means apocalyptic for the Indians. In fact, Kluber boasts the sixth-best FIP of any starting pitcher this season and has pitched the third-most innings since 2014. The workhorse Cy Young winner would have likely been leaned on regardless of the health of Carrasco or Salazar.
Beside Kluber, Bauer certainly pails a bit in comparison, but the former third-overall pick seems to finally be blooming into a serviceable rotation mate. Since starting the season in the bullpen, Bauer has logged 160 innings as a starter while striking out 136. To his distinct credit though, Bauer has increased his groundball rate by nearly ten percentage points this season. While some peripherals may indicate middling success, a groundball pitcher in front of a middle infield consisting of Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis is a valuable weapon in the postseason.