Not Panicked, But Concerned About Tribe.

The way the Cleveland Indians are playing isn’t making us worried, but it is time to be slightly concerned as we are in the middle of the Memorial Day weekend.

The Tribe is sitting at just one game above the .500 mark at 24-23, and it is particularly concerning that they are just 8-13 at Progressive Field, the worst home mark in the American League.

The main culprits for the malaise of Terry Francona’s club would be an inconsistent offense, ranking 10th in the AL in runs per game, and the instability of the starting pitching, which can’t seem to get deep into ballgames.

The Indians have scored three runs or less in 24 of their 47 games to date, a total slightly more than 50%.  It is tough to win games in today’s baseball that way, and Francona’s club is just 7-17 in those contests.

When they get to four runs, they have an outstanding 17-6 mark, which of course, is championship level.  The question is how can they be more consistent on a daily basis.

It would help greatly if Edwin Encarnacion (who actually has hit better lately) and Carlos Santana started providing some pop in the middle of the order.  The latter has just five home runs on the season, after hitting 34 a year ago.

Another thing killing the offense is a 668 OPS for hitters leading off an inning, which includes a .305 on base percentage.  Guys leading off an inning simply aren’t getting on base, which makes it hard to get something going.

And when they do get runners on, Cleveland is hitting just .205 (670 OPS) with runners in scoring position, meaning the Tribe isn’t coming up with the clutch hit.

The Indians aren’t a big power team, so they rely on hits to score runs.  Last year, Cleveland hit .262 as a team.  This year?  That mark has dropped to .240.  That’s a huge drop off.

Right now, the Tribe only has four regulars hitting over .250, which isn’t great.  They are Francisco Lindor (.279), Jose Ramirez (.265), Michael Brantley (.291), and Lonnie Chisenhall (.261).  Only one, Brantley (.367) has an on base percentage over .350.

That’ an awful lot of outs being made.  Until that changes, we fear the offense is going to continue to struggle.

As for the starting pitchers, length of starts is becoming a huge factor.  Right now, it is rare to see an Indian starter still around the in the 7th inning, and that puts a huge burden on the bullpen.

Right now, they have been more than up to the task, but will we be able to say the same thing come August.

Since Mike Clevinger completed seven innings against the Astros on May 20th, no Cleveland starter has accomplished this, and only two (Josh Tomlin and Carlos Carrasco) threw a pitch in the seventh.

Most nights, you look at the box score and see 5+ innings out of a starter.  That’s not good enough, and that Tribe starters have the highest ERA in the American League doesn’t bode well either.

Perhaps we will see some change when staff ace Corey Kluber returns to the rotation this week.  The speculation is that Clevinger will stay and Danny Salazar will go to the bullpen for the Carrasco like refresher course in pitching.

We are still in May so it is too early in the season to panic, but on the other hand, almost 1/3rd of the season has been completed.  Progress has to be seen if the Indians are going to make the playoffs in 2017.

MW

 

Tribe’s Starters Need To Step Up

Last season, the Cleveland Indians went to the seventh game of the World Series despite missing two of its starting pitchers (Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar) for the entirety of the post-season.

It was a handicap because the starting rotation was considered the strength of Terry Francona’s ballclub.

So far in 2017, that simply hasn’t been the case.

Last night’s start by Danny Salazar just highlighted the issue once again.

The right-hander had early inning issues once again, giving up a three run homer to Jose Bautista after the hitters handed him a 2-0 first inning lead.

Then, after the Indians went up 7-3 with a five run third, Salazar couldn’t finish the bottom of the inning, giving up two more tallies before departing.

With Corey Kluber on the disabled list with a bad back and Trevor Bauer’s struggles being well chronicled, Salazar needs to pitch well to take the burden off the bullpen.

The statistics show the starting pitchers haven’t been that bad on the season thus far.  In the first 33 games in 2017, Cleveland pitchers have compiled 16 quality starts, a percentage that ranks in the middle of the pack in the American League (7th).

However, those numbers are skewed by the dominance of Carlos Carrasco, easily the Tribe’s best starter this year with a 1.86 ERA.

Carrasco has six of those quality starts (out of seven appearances), meaning in the other 26 starts, Indian hurlers have put together just 10 starts of six innings, allowing just three runs.

Kluber has three of those 10, and he’s not pitching right now.

Outside of Carrasco, the other four starters have an ERA of over 5.00.  Josh Tomlin and Bauer both have figures over 7.00.

Some of the issues can be from playing in a lot of hitter havens to start the 2017 season.  Cleveland has played a dozen games in Texas, Arizona, Chicago, and Toronto, all pretty good places to hit.

However, as a pitching staff, the team ERA is better on the road than it is at Progressive Field.

Each of the struggling pitchers seem to have different issues.

Salazar is striking people out (53 K’s in 36-1/3 innings), but has had problems with control, a team leading 18 walks, and putting hitters away.  He winds up throwing a ton of pitches because of the latter.

He’s also had issues in the first and second innings.

Tomlin doesn’t have control issues, but he’s allowed 41 hits in 30-1/3 frames.  Surprisingly, he’s allowed the least home runs among the rotation, and we say that considering his history.

To be fair, since two horrible starts to begin the season, he’s been pretty good in his last four starts (24 IP, 11 ER).

And Bauer was discussed earlier this week.  He has tremendous stuff, but has had extreme consistency issues in 2017.  He needs to start being able to keep his team in a game through five innings to give them a chance to win.

We know that if the rotation straightens itself out and goes two times through it, the Indians could have a 10 game winning streak.  That’s how good they can be at their best.

That the ballclub is 18-15 without them being special is a tribute to how good the Tribe and their bullpen is this season.

MW

 

 

 

Tribe Wins Opener, And More Thoughts On AL Champs

For some reason, many people, including baseball fans put a lot of importance on the results of the Opening Day of baseball.

In reality, it is just one game of 162, but because the non-baseball sports media actually watch the season lidlifter, there is more analysis on game one, compared to a contest in May between the Tribe and the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Indians did get off to a winning start, overcoming a 5-1 deficit after three innings to outlast the Texas Rangers 8-5 to go to 1-0 on the season.

Corey Kluber gutted out six innings on a day where he didn’t have his best stuff, Edwin Encarnacion debuted with a home run, and Andrew Miller and Cody Allen struck out five of the last seven Texas hitters to wrap this one up.

Remember though that baseball is a series sport, you want to win series, and the Indians have a leg up on that by winning last night.

So, while we celebrate a win in the first game, there are still some issues for this baseball team, although none of them are based on a lack of talent, which is very refreshing.

Over the weekend, the front office signed another player to a multi-year contract, Roberto Perez.  Perez inked a four year deal with two club options that could take him through 2022.

Perez was a star in last year’s post-season, and it says here that he will be the regular catcher by the All-Star break.  It is a well kept secret that Perez is better defensively than Yan Gomes (who is very good behind the plate), and better with a bat in his hand too.

Gomes doesn’t control the strike zone which in our opinion is why he has struggled at the plate since 2014.  Pitchers know they don’t have to throw him a strike to get him out.

Perez is also one of the best pitch framers in the business, and draws a ton of walks too.

By the way, we know Terry Francona is protecting rookie Yandy Diaz, but hitting Gomes sixth seems like it will come back to bite the Tribe.

The other situation worth looking at is in the outfield, particularly when Lonnie Chisenhall is eligible to come off the disabled list.

Austin Jackson was told a week before spring training ended, leading to speculation that Abraham Almonte would be sent to the minors.  But Chisenhall’s shoulder issue allowed the switch-hitter to make the team.

We still feel that Almonte is a better choice than Jackson for the roster because of his ability to hit from both sides of the plate, and because Jackson has had issues making contact at times.

We know it is one game, but Almonte had a day, didn’t he?  Two walks and the go ahead single in the ninth.  You have to wonder what happens when Chisenhall is back.

Does Almonte still go to Columbus, or does Jackson agree to go down.  Or will the team send out Tyler Naquin.  Just another problem teams have when they are good.

As for people disappointed that the Indians didn’t open at home?  Relax, worry about something else.  Hopefully, the Tribe wins both series on the road and they come home to a party after a successful trip.

MW

 

Looking Ahead To Tribe Off-Season

It still stings.

Losing in extra innings in the seventh game of the World Series for the second time in the last 20 years will do that to hardcore fans.

Despite some people in the media telling fans they should feel good about losing to the Cubs in the Fall Classic, we still think about what might have been.

The Indians were this close to a World Championship, and fell just a bit short.

So, the best thing to do is to look forward.  What can and will the Indians do this winter to prepare themselves to defend the American League Central Division and the American League championship?

Despite the injuries late in the season that curtailed the Tribe’s rotation, there is no doubt the strength of the Indians is the starting rotation, and the back end of the bullpen.

Remember, Cleveland finished second in the American League in ERA in 2016.

Led by staff ace Corey Kluber, the rotation which also consists of Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer, and Josh Tomlin, and the tandem of Andrew Miller and Cody Allen at the back of the bullpen is the backbone of the team.

And don’t forget Mike Clevinger and post-season hero Ryan Merritt to provide depth as well.

As we all saw, pitching rules the day in October, and the Cleveland pitching staff was outstanding in the playoffs.

But the odd thing about baseball is you have to score runs in the regular season to get into the post-season, and quite frankly a lot went right for the Tribe to rank second in the AL in runs scored this past season.

Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana has career years in terms of power, and one of that duo may not be with the team when Opening Day 2017 comes around.

Many will peg Jose Ramirez for regression next season, but we are not one of those people.  Ramirez’ minor league numbers suggest he is a good hitter and at age 24, should still be getting better.

The same can be said for SS Francisco Lindor who will play ’17 at age 23.  Lindor should only get better, and should provide a little more power, which could put him with around 20 home runs next season.

Jason Kipnis should be fine, and of course, the team is hopeful of getting its best hitter coming into 2016, Michael Brantley back and provide the professional at bats he is well known for.

What the front office does to make up for the loss or possible lost production from Napoli and perhaps Santana will go a long way toward making the post-season a year from now.

The outfield is still a huge question mark.  Rajai Davis is also a free agent and will be 36 years old.  Tyler Naquin slumped badly in the second half and has no track record.  Lonnie Chisenhall and Brandon Guyer are solid players, but aren’t cornerstones.  Don’t forget about Abraham Almonte too.

And will Brantley be healthy enough to contribute.  Hopefully, rookie Yandy Diaz figures in somewhere too.

The front office can’t and shouldn’t go into the winter thinking older players like Napoli and Davis will repeat the numbers they put up in 2016.  It’s just not logical.

So, president Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff have to be creative in what they do in the hot stove league.

One thing is for sure.  The Tribe should not stand pat.  They need to continue to improve the roster even though they got to the seventh game of the World Series.

You can’t assume everything will be the same as this year.

KM

 

 

Tribe Simply Ran Out Of Gas

Going into the playoffs, we felt it would be very difficult for the Cleveland Indians to succeed because of the loss of Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar.

However, Terry Francona did a masterful job of post-season managing, relying heavily on his excellent bullpen headed by Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, and ably backed up by Bryan Shaw.

That trio, along with ace starter Corey Kluber soaked up the majority of the innings in the playoffs, and they performed magnificently…until last night.

They will deny it, but it appears those four arms simply ran out of gas, and the Chicago Cubs big hitters got hot in the last two games, while the Indians’ big bats could never get it going.

We should never forget the performance of Kluber, Miller, and Allen in particular during this run.  Miller, in particular, showed every baseball fan that he might just be the best reliever in the game, and that Allen is damn good.

Dexter Fowler, Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo wore Cleveland pitchers out in games six and seven, while Francisco Lindor and Mike Napoli hit some balls hard, but with no result.

As a result, the longest championship drought in major league baseball is over, and it has been replaced by the Tribe, who will enter next year having it be 69 years since the last time the franchise has won the World Series.

It didn’t help that the weather kind of conspired against the Indians too.  The unseasonably warm evening caused the jet stream going out to centerfield and right center which aided balls hit by the Cubs.

The Indians didn’t hit any fly balls in that direction.

To our eye, the home runs hit by Fowler (to lead off the game) and David Ross didn’t appear to be dingers off the bat, and Wilson Contreras’ double off the wall fooled Rajai Davis as well.

And the fly ball Davis caught in the tenth off the bat of Bryant looked like a routine fly ball at the time and that ball carried to the wall.

Perhaps, the result would have been different if the temperature was 20 degrees cooler.

The Tribe had a chance to win the game in the bottom of the ninth against an obviously tired Aroldis Chapman, but they couldn’t even get a man on base.

That doesn’t temper the tremendous comeback to tie the game after trailing 5-1 in the fifth.  Two runs scoring on a wild pitch by Jon Lester.

And then the epic 8th inning, with a big double by Brandon Guyer, and the tremendous two run homer by Rajai Davis, which rocked Progressive Field to its core.

While the Indians are a young team, and should be contenders for the next few years, you can’t count on a repeat berth in the World Series next year because of the three tiered playoff system.

There’s no guarantee they will be back, and all the organization can do is put the Tribe in a position to win the AL Central again in 2017.  That gets you back in the post-season tournament.

We will analyze what the Indians should do with the roster going forward at another time, when yesterday’s loss doesn’t sting so much.  We will say that post-season performance shouldn’t figure into those decisions.

There was no goat for the Cleveland Indians in this series.  The pitchers that they leaned on so much in October simply ran out of gas.  The injuries finally took their toll.

MW

 

 

 

Tribe & Jays Pretty Even Matchup

The American League Championship Series, which starts Friday night at Progressive Field figures to be pretty evenly matched.

The Blue Jays led the AL in ERA with the Indians ranking 2nd.  In runs scored, Cleveland was 2nd while Toronto was 5th.

And while Canada’s team did not hit for a high average, they led the league in walks, so they ranked 3rd in on base percentage, just ahead of the Tribe.

With Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar missing, the Jays seem to have the edge in the starting rotation, but the Indians look to have the superior bullpen coming into the series.

Based on run differential, both teams should have won 91 games this season.  That’s how even these two teams appear to be.

The Indians won the season series, four games to three, but keep in mind the first series in Toronto was skewed by the 19 inning victory which extended the Tribe’s winning streak to a club record 14 games.

Carrasco won the series opener with a 14 strikeout performance, and we all remember Trevor Bauer’s five scoreless innings on short rest in the aforementioned extra inning affair.

Terry Francona used Zack McAllister, who was struggling big time, to start the third game against Blue Jays’ game one starter Marco Estrada, and Cleveland led before the bullpen faltered late.

Corey Kluber had a rare horrible outing in the last game and Toronto dominated.

Keep in mind, the Indians did not see Jose Bautista all season.  He was hurt both times the two teams met.

The Blue Jays big bats (Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, Bautista, and Troy Tulowitzki) all function much better at Rogers Centre, with the exception of Bautista.

Russell Martin and former Indian, Ezequiel Carrera are two hitters who benefit greatly from playing at home, where the ball seems to take off.  Martin’s OPS is almost 100 points higher at home, while Carrera’s is over 200 points higher.

The series in Cleveland was highlighted by late inning home runs for the Tribe.  They tied and won the Friday night game on dingers by Jose Ramirez and the inside the park walk off job by Tyler Naquin, while the finale was decided by a two run shot by Ramirez in the bottom of the eighth.

So, based on the regular season, the two teams are pretty evenly matched.  Is there anything the Tribe can take advantage of in the LCS?

The Blue Jays’ hitters strike out a lot.  They rank 4th in the AL in this category.  Besides the Carrasco game mentioned earlier, Bauer also had a start where he fanned more than 10 Toronto hitters.

So, the Indians’ pitchers need to get ahead in the count and expand the strike zone.  Toronto hitter will chase pitches out of the zone when behind in the count.

The Tribe hurlers must get the Justin Smoaks, Kevin Pillars, Melvin Uptons of the team out, so if the big boppers do something the damage will be minimized.

Also, the Jays don’t do a good job controlling the running game, and the Indians lead the AL in stolen bases.  It would not be a surprise to see Rajai Davis, Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, and Jason Kipnis trying to steal every time they get on base.

The Tribe has been aggressive on the basepaths all year, and now is not the time to change that.

Can the Indians win their sixth pennant in club history?  Of course.  But, as usual, it will not be easy.  It is funny that this is the first time Cleveland has had the home field advantage in the five ALCS they have been involved with.

It would help the cause if Francona continued his hot streak in the manager’s chair.

KM

 

 

 

Tribe, Tito Exact Revenge

It was a tough series for sure, and last night’s game was a nail biter, but the Cleveland Indians swept the Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series with a 4-3 victory and advanced to the AL Championship Series starting Friday night.

The Red Sox came into the series with all the hype and the whole David Ortiz is retiring thing, but it was the largely unknown Tribe that won the series.

That three of the principal heroes in the clincher were Josh Tomlin, Tyler Naquin, and Coco Crisp tells you a lot about this group of Indians, led by their manager Terry Francona.

Certainly, Cleveland got incredible pitching mostly from Corey Kluber in game two, and Andrew Miller and Cody Allen (despite last night’s nervous performance) out of the bullpen, as they held down the highest scoring team in the American League to just seven runs in the three games.

But you can’t overlook the performances of Trevor Bauer and Tomlin, who put the bullpen in a situation to win the first and last games.

But look at the offensive heroes in each of the games.  Roberto Perez, the back up catcher going into the season, and a guy who missed two and a half months with a thumb injury was a star in the first game.

In game two, Lonnie Chisenhall, who normally wouldn’t have played against Red Sox lefty David Price because of the platoon advantage, had the game’s biggest hit, a three run homer in the second.

And don’t forget Brandon Guyer, acquired from Tampa Bay at the trade deadline because of his ability to hit southpaws, chipped in with three hits in the middle game.

Last night, it was Naquin, who has struggled since September 1st, putting Cleveland in front with a two run single, and Crisp, picked up at the end of August, belting a two run homer over the Green Monster.

Jason Kipnis and Jose Ramirez made major impacts, but the Tribe overcame pedestrian performances from Carlos Santana, Frankie Lindor, and Mike Napoli to advance.

We hate to talk about perfection, because there were subtle things that could have been changed, but Francona pushed seemingly all of the right buttons in the series.  When his team got the lead, he managed as if it were the seventh game of the series.

And that’s the way it should be in the post-season.

Francona has to be secretly be smiling today, and that grin would be directed at the Red Sox’ ownership who dumped him in 2011 after a late season collapse.

If you listened to the press conferences for the ALDS, when Tito was asked about the good, young Boston players like Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts, he mentioned it was a tribute to former Sox GM Ben Cherington, also fired by the ownership.

That was Francona getting a little dig in.

The skipper showed he can still motivate a team and push the correct buttons in a post-season series.

We also found it funny that the Boston media questioned the Cleveland manager at times like he was still managing the team that plays at Fenway Park.

So, in a day or two, there will be four teams remaining in Major League Baseball, and the Cleveland Indians are one of them.

To paraphrase Tom Hamilton, Cleveland’s “October to Remember” will continue.

MW

Are Tribe’s Post-Season Chances Done?

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.

MW

 

Tribe Set For Post-Season Race

The Cleveland Indians enter the last month of the regular season with a 4-1/2 game lead over the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central Division.

The magic number is 26.

All in all, the Tribe is in pretty good shape.

They fortified the roster by making a waiver deal to bring Coco Crisp back to the wigwam, and considering the trades that were made in August, that has to be considered a solid move.

After all, the Orioles just traded for former Indian Michael Bourn.  Who would you rather have?

Crisp is the probable roster replacement for Abraham Almonte who is ineligible for the post-season due to his suspension for PEDs earlier this season.

The veteran switch-hitter did have a 778 OPS away from the pitcher friendly, dank Oakland ballpark this season, so he can still contribute with the bat and is more than adequate in the field as long as that field is leftfield.

The bullpen is also much improved from the end of July, partially because of Andrew Miller’s dominance, and also because some of the pitchers who were struggling seem to have righted themselves.

Zack McAllister looks like the guy who was a late inning dude during the first half of last season.  He got a huge out Monday night with the bases loaded and two out in the 10th inning, and over the last two weeks has been real good.

And Jeff Manship is also getting hitters out giving Terry Francona an early option if he needs to go to his ‘pen.  Mike Clevinger has also contributed, although it looks as though he may be getting stretched out as a starter again next week.

The starting rotation also seems to be out of the funk it was in since the All Star break.  Corey Kluber has established himself as a contender for a second Cy Young Award, and it was a good sign that Danny Salazar pitched well last weekend in Texas.

Saturday is a big start for him to see if he is back on track.  Trevor Bauer has put together back-to-back solid efforts, and Carlos Carrasco has been the best starter outside of Kluber since the break.

Josh Tomlin looks like he is out of the rotation at this point after he was cuffed around again against the Twins.  Our guess is Clevinger will take his turn on Tuesday night, going as long as he can before the bullpen takes over.

We also think that the Indians will bring up either Ryan Merritt or Shawn Morimando to back up Clevinger at least early on.  The way Tomlin has pitched, he should be relegated to mop up duties at this point.

This team still needs to win games to make the last two weeks of the schedule as meaningless as they can.

Remember, 13 of Cleveland’s last 16 games are against the Tigers and the Royals, and even though the Tribe has handled both team well this year, if the Indians keep winning, those teams will be desperate.

On the other hand, if Francona’s group can have let’s say a six or seven game lead going into those last 16 contests, it puts KC and Detroit into a position where they would have to sweep.

We have always maintained a five game lead on Labor Day is pretty safe, and the Indians can accomplish that with a good weekend against the Marlins, because the Tigers and Royals square off at the same time.

The front office has fortified the roster, now it’s up to the players.  And if the starting pitching is back on track, the Tribe will be pouring some champagne in their clubhouse this month.

MW

 

 

Tribe’s Strength Is Failing Them

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.

KM