Starting Pitchers are Making Past, Present & Future Look Better
Steve Eby | On 10, Sep 2014
These starting pitchers for the Cleveland Indians are unbelievable.
For the first four months of the 2014 season, the Indians starting pitching looked like a hodgepodge of underachieving veterans, unproven and unready young arms, a couple of fill-in guys and a steady Corey Kluber. For a long time Kluber was the only bright spot in a rotation filled with a shell of Justin Masterson’s former self, a lost Zach McAllister, a nervous-looking Danny Salazar and a combination of an inconsistent Trevor Bauer and a “haven’t we seen enough of this guy” Carlos Carrasco. Throw in an unknown and unimpressive T.J. House with a washed up Josh Tomlin and the Indians had a recipe for disaster that looked bad in the present, foggy for the future and emphasized mistakes of the past that brought the Indians to their underachieving state.
And then August happened.
While Kluber has been outstanding all season long, the rest of the pitching staff has seemed to catch whatever awesomely contagious bug that he was afflicted with as well. What was once seen as a glaring weakness on Cleveland’s ballclub is suddenly a strength that has not only helped the team in the short term, but also gives them hope for a brighter future and lightens the blows from some questionable past decisions.
I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t truly believed in this ballclub since late April. Heading into the season I was skeptical but trusting because I felt that the Tribe was putting a whole lot of eggs in the baskets of some inexperienced pitchers, but then when they dropped six in a row on a California road trip from hell, they lost me.
Their defense was a nightmare; their offense wasn’t consistent enough to carry them and their pitching staff was running out Tomlin and House every fifth day. It just didn’t look at all like a playoff team to me.
Yet, here we are in the second week of September and the Indians are still hanging in there, mathematically in the thick of the race. I still don’t buy that the Indians are going to make the playoffs, but I’ll give them a ton of credit for keeping this town’s interest (at least on television) even after the Browns kicked off their regular season. While their defense is still poor and offense probably still doesn’t give opposing pitchers nightmares, the pitching staff—highlighted by Kluber, a suddenly steady Bauer, a rejuvenated Carrasco and the return of Salazar— has kept the 2014 Indians in the contention picture with just a few weeks left in the season.
It’s probably a little too late to make a postseason appearance a reality, but hey, I suppose something just as unlikely has happened before.
Even though the current roster hasn’t shown me enough to convince me that the 2014 season will bear any playoff fruit, the young pitching staff’s recent turnaround has given me optimism that 2015 and beyond could be pretty fun.
First of all, the Indians still have Kluber, 28, for the foreseeable future—which is excellent. Kluber should continue to anchor this staff for the next few years and continue to mature as a pitcher. While I do expect him to continue to grow and be dependable, however, I must make it clear that it’s not very fair to expect Kluber to repeat his historic performance next year…or any other year for that matter. Kluber is and should continue to be an excellent pitcher, but right now he’s having a season of a lifetime.
Currently, Kluber ranks in the top three in ERA, WAR and strikeouts in the American League, while he is also just two wins behind being tied for the league lead. He has 223 strikeouts compared to just 46 walks and those 223 K’s are the most in Cleveland since Gaylord Perry’s 238 in 1973. For his efforts, Kluber should finish in the top three in the AL Cy Young voting, if not in the top two…or even one is possible. I love Corey Kluber and have been a big fan and supporter since last season, but to expect those kind of results from any pitcher not named Clayton Kershaw is asking a little too much.
After the elder-statesman Kluber, both Bauer and Salazar have continued to grow, impress and get better. I’ve felt all season like Bauer was more than effective, but has had typical rookie bumps in the road. Salazar seemed at times to be pitching a little over his head as well…perhaps showing that a lack of a scouting report was a bigger deal last season than most people realize. Over the past month, however, both pitchers have seemed to have righted the ship and continue on their path to stardom.
In the month of August, Bauer made six starts and compiled a 1-1 record with a 3.34 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP. While his personal record may not impress, the team’s 5-1 mark over those six games absolutely should. Bauer is learning what he needs to do to be successful and it should be a scary thought for the rest of the hitters in the league. Bauer’s ‘stuff’ is still worthy of being drafted third overall and he’s still just 23 years old.
Salazar, meanwhile, has harnessed his good ‘stuff’ as well and just had a string of 21.0 consecutive scoreless innings snapped on Monday. Since being recalled from the minors, the 24 year old has dominated opposing hitters in a way that we didn’t even see in 2013 by working to a 6-3 record with an impressive 3.13 ERA. If you could take out his one bad inning on Monday, his ERA drops to 2.11 over that span.
Unable to be lost in all of this is Carrasco, 27, who has somehow been pitching better than anyone else over the last month. Since being reinserted into the rotation on August 10, Carrasco has a 4-0 record with a 0.70 ERA in six starts. He has held opponents to a .179 batting average and has allowed just one homerun and 29 baserunners in 38.2 innings of work.
Let that sink in for a second…this is the same Carlos Carrasco that got torn from the rotation last year and then again this April. The same guy who used to throw at people’s heads and made fans want to tear their hair out…THAT Carlos Carrasco.
Give the Indians some credit for continuing to see something in a guy that we all gave up on long ago. Not only has Carrasco cemented his name in for the present and given himself a great shot and being a part of the future, he also could help the Indians somewhat exorcize one of their biggest demons from previous years.
While the current group of young arms combined with the struggles of those that have departed should have made fans forget about both the struggling Scott Kazmir and the still-inconsistent Ubaldo Jimenez, the roots that are being dug up grow even deeper into the Indians front office’s previous mistakes.
It’s no secret that Indians’ fans will never forget or forgive the team for trading the reigning Cy Young Award winners CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee in back-to-back seasons. For years, what seemed even more unforgiveable was the return that they got for both players seemed both unimpressive and laughable.
Recently, Michael Brantley has turned around the perception of the Sabathia trade somewhat, as getting an All-Star outfielder for a Cy Young pitcher isn’t exactly ideal, but it’s certainly not nothing either. The stain of the Lee trade was one that continued to haunt, however, as most of the pieces the Indians got in that deal were thrown to the curb over the past three seasons.
All except Carrasco, that is.
The Indians continued to see something in Carrasco through his struggles and are finally reaping the rewards of their patience. Carrasco may never be as consistent of a pitcher as Lee has been over the past seven years, but he certainly is dominating in the present. The Indians finally have some return on a trade that they have taken so much heat for…and if Carrasco and Brantley can continue their respective tears and lead the Tribe to the playoffs next year, then the Indians may actually come out ahead in those deals.
Pretty unbelievable, huh?