Kluber Looking to Keep Momentum Going Into Final Week of Regular Season

Monday starts the final week of regular season baseball. For the Indians, it will be the final week in which the games have no importance, record-wise.

With a third straight American League Central Division title sewn up more than a week ago, the only thing that the Indians have had left to play for is pride and getting themselves set up for what they hope will be a long playoff run. That latter part has been big. The team, over the last week and over this coming week, will be looking to get players rested, get other players healthy, and get everyone geared up and ready to go for October baseball.

Among the players that the Indians have looked to get ready to roll for the playoffs is two-time Cy Young winner and team ace Corey Kluber. Manager Terry Francona, beginning more than a week ago, has repositioned Kluber’s starts to get the rotation’s workhorse some rest, while also lining him up to pitch Game 1 of the American League Division Series on October 5. With Trevor Bauer, a Cy Young candidate before being injured on August 11, just now on the comeback trail, the Tribe rotation is going to go as Kluber goes. That is why he has now had a second straight start pushed back.

Kluber was scheduled to pitch Sunday night’s ESPN Sunday Night Baseball showdown against the Red Sox. However, Francona pushed him back to Monday night against the White Sox. That would line him up to pitch over the weekend to be ready to go for the playoffs on normal rest or an extra day of rest, depending on how Cleveland’s management decides to use its star pitcher.

The Indians want to make sure their No. 1 starter is in as good of physical shape as possible, after he struggled in last season’s ALDS thanks to some nagging pains. The Tribe also wants to see its ace get and stay on a roll heading into October.

Kluber appeared playoff ready this past Tuesday against the same White Sox team that he will be facing Monday. He dismantled Chicago’s mostly underwhelming lineup, striking out 11 batters in eight innings. He allowed three earned runs and won his career-best 19th game. He can hit 20 victories for the first time in his career with a similar outing Monday. He would also become Cleveland’s first 20-game winner since Cliff Lee in 2008.

On Tuesday, Kluber amassed 200 strikeouts for the fourth straight season, becoming just the third Indians pitcher to accomplish that feat.

The 32-year-old right-hander may not win a third Cy Young this season as a few rough outings have his ERA higher than current favorites Chris Sale and Blake Snell. Still, at 19-7, with a 2.93 ERA and 0.98 WHIP, Kluber is still looking like an elite starting pitcher that few can match.

Two years ago, as the Indians got all the way to Game 7 of the World Series, Kluber carried an injured and beleaguered rotation. He was as good as ever. In the 2016 playoffs, he was 4-1 with a 1.83 ERA, pitching multiple times on short rest. Last season, reportedly with a sore back being an issue, Kluber labored through two bad starts. He didn’t get beyond the fourth inning in either one and carried an unsightly 12.79 ERA.

Last year’s rough postseason is why the Indians are being careful to give Kluber some extra days off down the stretch. They want to have their ace humming like he did two years ago. If he is going strong, the team will have a chance to surprise those around baseball who believe they are the A.L.’s third or fourth best team. Many feel that the Tribe has no shot against the Astros or Red Sox this postseason. That can change if some guys who have struggled or battled injuries can get back to form. Kluber pitching at his lights-out best would be a big key toward getting the Indians deep into October. A strong October from Kluber could actually be the most important piece of the playoff puzzle for a Cleveland team looking to win a World Series for the first time in 70 years.

The team is doing everything it can to have Kluber ready to go. Now it is up to the ace to keep his momentum rolling for another month or more.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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