Kluber The Ace Needed More Often Than Not Down the Stretch
Craig Gifford | On 31, Jul 2016
An ace, an All-Star, and a Cy Young Award winner. Cleveland Indians starter Corey Kluber is all of those things. The Tribe will need their number one pitcher to be all of those things down the stretch as the team enters August in a pennant race, leading the American League Central Division.
The last couple of go-rounds through the rotation have shown some chinks in the armor of a starting five that looked absolutely impenetrable when the Indians were reeling off 14 straight wins in late June/early July.
Number 4 and 5 starters Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin have been hit hard of late. Even Kluber’s fellow 2016 All-Star teammate Danny Salazar could not figure out how to get outs against a tough Nationals lineup this past week. Of the five-man rotation, only Carlos Carrasco has remained a steady tough customer for opposing hitters since the Tribe hit its high-water mark of 49-30 on July 1.
After Saturday night’s game against Oakland, Cleveland has gone 10-12 following its great run. What was a seven-game lead in the division had dropped to four and a half over the hard-charging Detroit Tigers.
While it is no secret that the Indians have a very good rotation, arguably the best in the A.L. and one of the top five in all of Major League Baseball, the starters were going a little above themselves during Cleveland’s large winning streak. Bauer and Tomlin were pitching far better than their track records. While they are still better than almost any other club’s last two starters, they were pitching like aces in June.
Carrasco and Salazar are really only in their second seasons as starters who really have MLB hitting figured out. While it can be argued that those two have better stuff and may even be better than Kluber, it is the latter who is the veteran and leader of the rotation. Cleveland needs him to be that over the final two months of the campaign and it starts Sunday when Kluber takes the mound against the Athletics.
Far too often this season Kluber has not looked like the unquestioned ace of the pitching staff, let alone a guy only two years removed from winning honors as the league’s top pitcher. Despite his status as an All-Star this season, Kluber has had some disappointing outings, mixed in with his normal superb performances.
In his last ten starts, Kluber has had three games in which he has allowed five runs or more. Two of the teams that roughed him up were the Texas Rangers on May 31 and the Toronto Blue Jays on July 3. Both are possible playoff foes for the Indians, should the Tribe continue down its path toward October baseball.
Another possible playoff opponent is Baltimore. The hard-hitting Orioles scored three runs in seven innings against Kluber last Sunday, the last time Cleveland’s Opening Day starter toed the rubber. While that is a quality start, the Indians could certainly use more of the one- or two-run gems Kluber has become known for. Between his rough July 3 outing and last Sunday’s okay performance, the Tribe’s ace tossed 15 combined innings in two games against the Royals and Yankees, surrendering just one run. That is the type of stuff the Indians need if they are going to hold off the Tigers in the Central and claim their first division crown since 2007.
Kluber certainly can do it. He was a regular in the rotation down the stretch as the 2013 squad rallied to a 92-70 record and earned a spot in the one-game AL Wild Card. He certainly showed the ability to be a consistent lights-out hurler in 2014, his Cy Young season. This season he has strung together numerous eye-popping outings. In that aforementioned ten-game stretch with three bad starts, he also had four starts in which he had given up two runs or less, including a pair of shutouts. Two of those games were complete games. He has a pair of complete game shutouts this season. He also has seven outings of surrendering four or more runs.
Kluber has been all over the map this season, sprinkling in forgettable games in between strong, ace-like stretches. A 9-8 record attests to that. Despite more than a handful of difficult days on the hill, a 3.44 ERA shows just how good Kluber has been when he has been on. Cleveland really needs him to be on a lot more often than not over the next two months, which will cover around 11 or 12 starts.
Kluber may have pitched at a higher level in 2014 than what his final career numbers will some day show. Still, he has the propensity for pitching like one of the game’s best hurlers more times than not. While he may not be viewed by some as his own team’s clear-cut best starting pitcher at this point, he is the leader of the rotation. Of the starting five, he has the longest track record of success, now in his fourth season as a rotation fixture.
If the Indians are to be successful in their pursuit of a division crown and, hopefully more than that, it all begins and ends with their starting five. Their starting five beings with Kluber. Beginning Sunday, Kluber needs to give the Tribe its unquestioned ace during during the pennant race. It would be huge if Kluber could step up from Sunday on and show on a regular basis just why he is a multiple-time Opening Day starter, an All-Star, and the owner of a Cy Young Award trophy.
Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images