Kluber, Possibly Overlooked, Just Continues to Dazzle

Is it possible that a starting pitcher with 18 wins in the first week of September could be an overlooked man? Add in that he has the game’s eighth-best ERA at 2.75 and incredible 0.95 WHIP, good for the game’s fourth lowest? Oh, and then there is the whole two Cy Young Awards thing.

Can this guy possibly be overlooked or taken for granted?

In the case of Cleveland Indians all-star and two-time Cy Young-winning Corey Kluber, that answer may just be yes.

Kluber is having nearly as good of a season as he had in his award-winning campaigns of 2014 and 2017. Statistically, last season was better, but not by as much as you may think. His ERA was a superb 2.25 in 2017, while his WHIP was an impressive 0.87. However, take away that little bit of a bumpy road that he went through at the end of June and beginning of July and Kluber has been as close to dominant this season, just as he has in the past.

On Wednesday, Kluber earned his career-high-tying 18th victory, allowing just one run and two hits over six and two-thirds frames to a Kansas City team that had hit him pretty hard when they matched up on August 25. Wednesday’s outing followed a dominant showing against a quality Tampa Bay Rays team on August 31, in which he shut out a pretty good offense for seven stanzas. Over those two starts, Kluber combined for 18 strikeouts. It felt as if he was revving up to be the Tribe’s true ace and one of the game’s elite pitchers down the September stretch and the postseason.

Despite all of this, it still seems Kluber is being taken for granted. Rather than pointing out that Kluber could win 20-plus games, some want to point that his ERA is 0.50 points higher than a season ago. Some want to point out the games in which he got rocked. They remember him getting roughed up by a historically bad Royals team in the August 25th game, where he surrendered five runs to a fairly inept offense. They remember him lasting just four frames against a Pirates team that is going nowhere or that he got rocked for six runs in an inning and two-thirds by a Cardinals team in June, before St. Louis got on the roll that now has that club on the precipice of the postseason.

Instead of hearkening on the bad, perhaps it is time to notice and take hold of all the good. Consider – Kluber has pitched into the seventh inning in seven of his last eight starts (the Royals debacle being the lone exception). How about that the Indians are 7-1 in those Kluber outings, dating back to the end of July? Kluber has won six of his last seven decisions to push his season record to 18-7. The strikeout total, once low for a guy who has made his name with the K, has started to grow. Figuring that he has four or five more starts in the regular season, it does not take much imagination to see his 190 strikeouts get close to the 227 batters he whiffed in 2016. He may not touch the 265 he fanned last year or the career-high mark he set of 269 in 2014, but less strikeouts has meant less pitches for a guy whose innings pitched mileage over the last six years has really started to go up.

With all of this good, there are those still around the baseball world who want to give this season’s Cy Young trophy to Boston’s Chris Sale (granted, Sale is a great pitcher who has yet to win the hardware). However, he has one start since July 27. He has been non-existent for the stretch run. Before spending to stints on the disabled list, there was little question Sale was having one of the best seasons of any pitchers in the American League. It seems a stretch to award a guy who has not been there for some of his team’s biggest games. When he returns, the Red Sox will have the A.L. East and top seed in the playoffs all but locked up.

Some in the media want to give the award to Blake Snell. Snell has been superb for the Rays. However, Tampa is not gearing up for the postseason as that team will be home come October, which will hurt his case immensely.

Kluber has been impressive and turned in his best work at a time that the team has needed it most. Over the last few years, the Tribe’s rotation has been its strength. However, it seemed on rocky ground last month when Trevor Bauer got hit by a line drive to the leg and landed on the DL for the first time in his career. Bauer was an All-Star this season and had pitched himself to the front of the Cy Young hopefuls. At the time, he was outpitching Kluber. That injury also meant the Tribe would have two rookies, Adam Plutko and Shane Bieber, taking regular and important turns in the starting five. Yes, an ace-like Carlos Carrasco is still there as is the ever-improving Mike Clevinger. Neither, however, has ever been one to carry a rotation.

Kluber has over the last month-plus. With questions in the rotation, Kluber has made sure that the Tribe has a good chance to win at least once every five games. He has been big at a crucial time.

And yet, he is still overlooked. It is as if, when he has a good game, it is to be expected as Tribe fans have been spoiled by having one of the game’s top pitchers working on the staff for half a decade. It is Kluber – he should be having good games. When he has a bad game, over-reactions and panic ensue – it is not the same Kluber any more, or Bauer has passed him up and Cleveland is done without him coming back.

Over the next few weeks, Kluber can still change that. If he continues to be impressive and continues amping up toward great October baseball, he may force the baseball world to take notice of him once again. If he can close out the campaign on a roll, perhaps he gets into the conversation for a third Cy Young that would put him in truly rare company. More importantly, if he can continue to be his ace self through the playoffs, the Indians could very well seriously challenge for their first World Series trophy since 1948. That would be the biggest and most important trophy of all the hardware Kluber has won to date. You can bet, if he played a key role in bringing that to Cleveland, there would be no more overlooking or taking for granted arguably the team’s greatest starting pitcher since the great Bob Feller.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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