Cleveland Indians outfielder Michael Brantley will make his much-deserving first trip to a Major League Baseball All-Star Game Tuesday in Minnesota. He was nearly joined by teammate, and arguably just as deserving, Corey Kluber.
Kluber, who has become the Tribe’s ace this season, was not named to the team when all-star squads were announced this past Sunday. However, Boston manager and skipper of the American League club John Farrell thought enough of the 28-year-old righty to add him to the final fan vote.
In what has become a yearly tradition, the opposing ASG managers select the five players in each league that did not quite make it on to the initial squads and let the fans select the last player for each side.
Cleveland’s No. 1 starter at this point, Kluber was up against four other hurlers who have done quite well this season. Chicago ace Chris Sale, Houston’s Dallas Keuchel, Detroit’s Rick Porcello and Garrett Richards of the Angels were also in the vote.
It was announced that Sale won the election as the last man onto the A.L. team. Sale is very deserving as his 8-1 record and 2.08 ERA would attest. Sale is the reason the White Sox have not sunk to the depths of the standings they were at a season ago.
However, Kluber is the reason that the Indians will likely go into the All-Star break with postseason hopes still alive. Cleveland starts it’s final series before the break tonight against the White Sox. The Indians are 45-46 entering the three-game set. They are 7.5 games behind the Central Division-leading Tigers, but just 3.5 games out of the second of two Wild Card slots.
That the Tribe is still in the thick of playoff contention is really a testament to Kluber. He has been the rock of a rotation that has otherwise been a little messy. Kluber goes into his last start of the first half tonight with an 8-6 record and 2.86 ERA in 19 starts.
Of the five pitchers who began the season in the rotation, only Kluber has not been met with injury or ineffectiveness. Cleveland’s Opening Day starter and 2013 All-Star Justin Masterson has battled an ailing knee that has likely been the culprit in a down year. He was put on the disabled list earlier this week and will miss his start tomorrow. Getting the call from Triple-A Columbus to fill in is Zach McAllister, who was also part of the season-starting rotation and was met by injury in May.
Also part of the initial starting five were Carlos Carrasco and last year’s rookie phenom Danny Salazar. Both struggled out of the gates. Carrasco has since found some success as the Tribe long reliever, while Salazar is trying to pick the pieces back up in Columbus.
Meanwhile, the Tribe has three starters now in the rotation who began the year with the Clippers. Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin and T.J. House have all received the call to the Majors in the past couple of months. All three have pitched fairly well for the Tribe. However, none could be confused the ace of a pitching staff. They are all fine No. 3-5 starters.
Kluber has stepped up admirably to fill the void at the top of Cleveland’s rotation. Without him, who knows where the Indians would be. A team void of a No. 1 starter usually ends up near the bottom of the standings. A team with no ace is not usually in the conversation as a trade-deadline buyer as the Indians currently are.
Kluber gets a chance tonight to further stake his claim as the Tribe’s ace and an All-Star worth hurler.
It is tough to call a series in mid-July a big one. However, Cleveland could certainly use a series win this weekend at Progressive Field against Chicago. Taking two of the three games would put the Indians at .500 heading into a four-day break. Kluber can set the tone for a good weekend this evening. A win tonight would of course go a long way toward allowing the Tribe to leave the weekend set at or over the break-even mark. A team should be able to expect a guy who nearly made the all-start team to step up in a moment like this.
If Cleveland is at or over .500 on Sunday evening, it will be an amazing feat for a club whose Opening Day starter has not pitched well. That is where Kluber stepping in has proven himself to All-Star worthy.
Yes, the Indians would certainly not be in this position without the bat of Brantley, who is arguably now the face of the franchise. If one player from the team had to be picked, it would be Brantley. However, the Indians truly deserved to be a more-than-one-all-star-at-the-break club. Kluber deserved to be in Minnesota with his teammate on Tuesday.
Kluber could still get there if another pitcher pulls out with injury or decides he threw too recently to pitch in the Mid-Summer Classic. That is possible. Indians fans can hope that Kluber still finds his way on to his first MLB All-Star squad. However, even if Kluber does not get there, this season has been a bit step forward for a guy in only his second full big-league campaign. The Indians will need Kluber to continue pitching like an All-Star in the second half to remain in postseason contention. Competing for October baseball, in the end, is more important than playing during baseball’s down time.
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