At the All Star break, the Cleveland Indians were sitting in first place with a 52-36 record and considered a favorite for the American League pennant because of their dominant starting pitching.
Two of the rotation members, Corey Kluber and Danny Salazar made the AL roster for the Midsummer Classic, and a case could be made for Josh Tomlin (9-2, 3.51 ERA) as well.
Carlos Carrasco wasn’t considered because he missed a good chunk of the first half with a hamstring injury and Trevor Bauer (7-3, 3.30 ERA) was pitching as well as he ever had in the big league tenure.
Collectively, Tribe starters had a 3.70 ERA at that point. Surely, it would be difficult to beat them in a short series.
My, how things have changed.
The Indians still lead the Central Division by 4-1/2 games over the Tigers and 5 over the surging defending champion Royals, but the starting rotation, considered the strength of the team by nearly everyone, experts and fans alike, is leaking oil. Badly.
Since the break, the Cleveland rotation has an ERA of 4.92, and this isn’t a ten or fifteen game stretch we are talking about. This span has now lasted 40 games, or a quarter of the major league schedule.
And if you remove Kluber’s sterling second half (5-0, 1.84 ERA) out of the mix, the remainder of the starting pitchers have a 5.87 ERA in the second half. If this continues, Terry Francona’s team will have a problem getting into the post-season, let alone making it all the way to the Fall Classic.
Here is how the rest of the rotation has fared since Kluber was the winning pitcher in San Diego to give the AL home field advantage in the World Series:
Bauer 2-3 5.20 ERA 45 innings
Tomlin 2-6 7.29 ERA 45-2/3 innings
Carrasco 4-4 4.25 ERA 55 inningsSalazar 1-2 10.70 ERA 17-2/3 innings
Salazar was disabled for two weeks with some discomfort in his elbow, and in his two starts since has lasted a total of five innings. Today’s start versus Texas is a huge start for him, the manager, and the pitching coach.
Francona didn’t use Mike Clevinger last night because he knew he needed him today in case the right-hander could only give him two or three innings.
Carrasco has been the next best pitcher after Kluber, but he has had starts where he dominates early, and then starts getting hit hard.
Bauer has been a mystery for most of his big league time, but looked to have figured it out in the first half. In the last month or so, he has started walking hitters again, and has been prone to the gopher ball. He did out duel Max Scherzer in Washington though.
When he has been good, he’s been very good. On the other hand…
Tomlin has been awful, with a 7.29 ERA over 45 frames. In many of the games he has started, he’s given the Tribe no chance to win. He has been especially bad against the better teams in the AL, and gives up dingers at an incredible rate.
Early in the year, most were solo shots, which is fine, but lately, they have been three run blasts and grand slams. Those are killers.
Can these guys get it back?
Carrasco and Bauer’s issue seems to be consistency. They are good some days, but horrible others. That seems fixable.
Is Salazar healthy? If so, he’s a dynamic third starter in the playoffs (assuming the Indians make it), capable of dominating opponents. If not, that’s a huge chasm to fill.
Tomlin has always been a back of the rotation guy anyway, albeit a solid one. He’s probably not going to start in the post-season anyway. But the Tribe needs another capable starter from here on out in the regular season.
Another failure Tuesday night vs. Minnesota could force Francona and Callaway to make a change.
Right now, this should be the biggest concern for any fan of the Indians. The team’s perceived strength as little as six weeks ago, has turned into a humongous question mark.