Bauer’s Return a Big Boost to Tribe’s Postseason Hopes

With eleven strikeouts on August 6 against the Minnesota Twins, Trevor Bauer blew right past the 200-strikeout threshold, accomplishing the feat for the first time in his Major League career. He was the fourth pitcher in the American League (Boston’s Chris Sale and Houston’s Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole) and fifth overall in the Majors (Washington’s Max Scherzer) to reach that total at the time, doing so just six days into August. Since his accomplishment, he has been joined by the Mets’ Jacob deGrom, Arizona’s Patrick Corbin, the Yankees’ Luis Severino, Philadelphia’s Aaron Nola, Tampa’s Blake Snell, and teammates Carlos Carrasco and Corey Kluber.

One start later, his status for the remainder of the season and the pending postseason run was very much in jeopardy, but those worries have been lifted significantly as the Indians will activate Bauer from the 10-day disabled list to start against the Red Sox on Friday night.

Bauer last pitched on August 11 against the Chicago White Sox, when he added eight more strikeouts to his season total before being struck by a Jose Abreu liner in the seventh inning, suffering a stress fracture of the right fibula of his swinging right leg. Despite missing more than a month while recovering from the liner, he still ranks fifth in the AL and eighth in all of baseball in Ks.

The 200-K mark is one of the big single-season milestones for starting pitchers, generally separating the season’s elite from the rest of the pack due to the need to be healthy for much or all of the year while having that swing-and-miss ability on the mound. Last season, 16 pitchers hit that mark, the second-most hurlers to do so in the last ten years. Eighteen reached the mark in 2015, and in the other eight years over the last decade, 10 to 15 pitchers reached that figure.

At the beginning of the day Thursday, a dozen had reached that milestone mark with eight more within 15 Ks of 200, including teammate Mike Clevinger (196).

Bauer – Jon Durr/Getty Images

Bauer (214) was the clubhouse leader for the Indians at the time of his injury, since surpassed by Carrasco (217) with Kluber (205) within striking distance with a couple starts remaining in the year. Bauer still has a realistic chance of dethroning Kluber from his seat as the team’s leading strikeout man over each of the last four seasons. Strikeouts have been less prevalent in Kluber’s game this season and he currently sits 11th overall in strikeouts in all of baseball (in 203 innings logged). In 37 fewer innings, Bauer has tallied nine more Ks than the reigning Cy Young winner.

Bauer’s strikeout efficiency this season marked just the 29th occasion that a pitcher for Cleveland’s AL squad had ever reached or exceeded the 200-strikeout mark (now done 31 times with the totals from Carrasco and Kluber). He is just the 11th different pitcher in Tribe history to hit 200 in a year. Kluber and Carrasco both hit 200 last season (with Kluber coming four short of his career-high of 269 in 2014), while Carrasco’s 226 marked the second time in his career that he had done so. Sam McDowell had six such seasons in his career (1965-1970) and Bob Feller owned five (1938-1941, 1946) while establishing the most strikeouts in a season in team history with 348 in his first full season back from his war efforts. Kluber (2014-18) matched Feller with five such seasons in his last start. Gaylord Perry (1972-1974) had three and was joined by Carrasco this year (2015, 2017-18), while Luis Tiant (1967-68), Herb Score (1955-56), Bartolo Colon (2000-01) each had two. CC Sabathia (2007) and Dennis Eckersley (1976) both had one.

Bauer’s return to the mound at Progressive Field will be a welcomed sight for the Tribe and their fans. The 27-year-old right-hander and first-time All-Star was a front-runner for the Cy Young Award at the time of his freak injury, holding a 12-6 record in 25 starts with a 2.22 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP in a career season for Cleveland. Among his strong stats on the rubber were a .205 batting average against, an AL-best 2.37 FIP, and just eight homers allowed in 166 innings of work for an MLB-leading rate of 0.4.

Bauer will start Friday at home in what is expected to be a short start with rookie righty Shane Bieber to follow him to the mound. Bauer pitched a simulated game at Progressive Field earlier in the week and came away unscathed from the outing. He is tentatively scheduled to pitch again in Chicago against the White Sox on Tuesday (if everything goes well Friday), with Carrasco coming on in relief to get in his own regular work as the team prepares for the playoffs.

The Indians and manager Terry Francona will use those Bauer starts to determine if his leg and rested arm are ready to help the club in a starting role in the American League Division Series (starting October 5) or if he would be better served as an arm out of the team’s bullpen.

“We’re trying to figure out what we have with Trevor,” said Francona in a quote on on Thursday. “So we want to try to let him start that game [in Chicago], just to give him the best chance to kind of succeed.”

There is little doubt that a pitching staff with Bauer on it is better this season than one without. Whatever role he serves the club and how long he remains in said role is less important. While there are things that the Indians need to take care of before the season concludes (like remaining healthy, establishing the bench and bullpen options for the playoffs, and getting Jose Ramirez’s bat going), getting Bauer’s arsenal of pitches back in the center of the diamond will be a big boost to the team’s postseason dreams.

Photo: Ron Schwane/Getty Images

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