After Carlos Carrasco left Saturday’s game with the Detroit Tigers with a broken bone in his hand, The Plain Dealer’s Paul Hoynes wrote that the Cleveland Indians’ playoff chances ended before the post-season even began.
We aren’t going to get into whether or not the column was appropriate, nor are we going to discuss the reactions to the piece in the Tribe clubhouse.
We did want to analyze whether or not the Indians’ really do not have a chance once the post-season begins the first week in October.
Perhaps as little as five years ago, losing two starting pitchers from a team that leads the American League in ERA could have been a death blow to that squad’s World Series hopes.
But baseball has changed over the past few seasons, and in the playoffs, the bullpen is becoming more and more important as managers bring in one flamethrower after another to work one inning in October.
Certainly, the Tribe will need its ace, Corey Kluber, to give them a lot of innings in the games he starts, much like Madison Bumgarner does for the Giants. Terry Francona will need Kluber to go deep in games, because he will lean on his bullpen heavily in the games he doesn’t start.
From there on out, Francona will be happy with at least five innings from his starting pitchers and then he will turn the game over to his bullpen where he can pull a page out of Joe Torre’s book and ask his three best relief pitchers, Bryan Shaw, Cody Allen, and Andrew Miller, to give him four outs each instead of the three he usually asks for in the regular season.
Trevor Bauer would probably be the game two starter, and if he is throwing strikes, could be another guy who can soak up some innings. For all of Bauer’s inconsistency, especially after the all star break, when he is on, he can be dominant.
Our guess is if the other two starters, Josh Tomlin and Mike Clevinger, can give Tito four solid innings, the skipper will be satisfied.
That’s because the post-season roster will have either eight or nine bullpen options, depending on what Francona feels comfortable with.
It’s also why Tito has been conducting some tryouts over the last month to see who will be part of his playoff relief corps.
Obviously, Dan Otero will be one of those members, as will Zack McAllister, who has been much more effective over the last six weeks.
We also believe Kyle Crockett will give the Indians an extra left-hander in the ‘pen in the post-season.
The last two spots are up for grabs, and the frontrunners are probably veteran Jeff Manship and rookie Perci Garner, who the manager has gone to in some very high leverage situations lately.
His strikeout of Victor Martinez on Saturday, with a man on third in a scoreless game, may have clinched the spot for him.
Without a doubt, it would be easier for the Indians with four starters who can give the team at least six innings throughout the post-season, but that ship has sailed.
However, we can definitely see a scenario where the pitching burden is put more on the bullpen in October, and that gives the Cleveland Indians just as good of a chance for success as they would have if the starting rotation was intact.