Carrasco Could Be Big Piece in Tribe Postseason Hopes

Two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber is the unquestioned ace of the Cleveland Indians starting pitching rotation. Trevor Bauer was having a Cy-worthy season of his own before taking a line drive off his leg in August and missing five weeks. He is back and looking to get back to his pre-injury form in time for the playoffs, which start Friday.

Almost lost in the hysteria of one Cy Young winner and one who may have been is Carlos Carrasco. A top-of-the-rotation pitcher in his own right, Cookie was a Cy Young candidate last season, finishing fourth in the American League voting. He could be Top 5 again this season. Yet, he almost seems like a forgotten man in his own starting five.

That is a narrative that could easily change in the coming month. If the Indians are to win their first World Series championship in 70 years, a big reason may very well be Carrasco. Kluber cannot pitch every game of the playoffs (even though it may have seemed to the contrary during the Indians’ 2016 playoff journey). Bauer may or may not be at full go after just a handful of appearances in the last couple of weeks of September. Cleveland will need Carrasco to be on his A game to get where it wants to get.

After a slow start to the season, and a line-drive-caused injury of his own, Carrasco has been at top form since July. He has been ace-like since the All-Star break. Manager Terry Francona has even reacquainted Carrasco to the bullpen a couple of times this year, with the idea being if Carrasco pitches Game 2 of the five-game American League Division Series, he has the arm strength to be ready to go, if necessary, in relief by the time a Game 4 or 5 rolled around.

Carrasco could very well pitch a strong game as a starter in Game 2 next Saturday and then be a key part of the bullpen in two other games after. Of anyone on the Tribe pitching staff, he is ready to roll going into October.

Other than a ninth inning hiccup in a relief role on Tuesday, Carrasco has been hitting on all cylinders of late. In his last nine starts, Cookie is only 3-4. However, that is no fault of his own. His given up one or fewer runs in five of those outings, and three or fewer in seven of them. He had two bad starts in which he gave up five tallies. Those games, however, have been few and far between since the Midsummer Classic.

Since the break, Carrasco has a 2.56 ERA and has struck out 113 batters in 84 1/3 innings. He is only 5-5 in that time, but his controllable stats show that he is quite ready for the playoffs. The Indians need him to be.

Last season, Carrasco got his first taste of October baseball and showed the moment was not too big for him. Despite the Tribe losing Game 3 of the ALDS to the Yankees, Carrasco pitched five and two-thirds strong frames, striking out seven and keeping the Bronx Bombers scoreless in his time on the mound, in Yankee Stadium no less.

Carrasco missed the 2016 playoffs thanks to a line drive off of the hand that September. Indians fans may always wonder if he was the missing piece to winning the Fall Classic two seasons ago. The Indians can take away some of the sting of that World Series Game 7 defeat with a championship trophy this year. Carrasco can be a huge part of getting the team to that point.

Pitching will be key in the postseason. ALDS opponent Houston has as strong a starting five as the Indians. Possible ALCS opponent Boston has a great one-two punch in Chris Sale and David Price. The Indians know they can match any team’s ace with Kluber. A healthy Bauer can match most, if not all, number two starters.

Carrasco is the wild card. When at his best, Cookie can go toe-to-toe with any pitcher the game has to offer. With one final tuneup Sunday afternoon against Kansas City, the good news is that Carrasco currently seems to be going at his very best. That is great news for the Indians and bad news for the rest of baseball.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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