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The Indians starting rotation has reclaimed its throne

“A cold wind was blowing from Cleveland, and it made the bats rustle like living things.”

Chicago White Sox v Cleveland Indians Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

It only took five months, but the Cleveland Indians starting rotation is the Cleveland Indians starting rotation again. With Corey Kluber leading the way as one of the best pitchers in the American League, backed by the likes of Carlos Carrasco and an on-fire Danny Salazar, the Tribe staff is back to being the best in baseball.

No starting pitcher core is as hot as the Indians over the past seven days. They lead the league in strikeout rate (35.7 percent), fWAR (1.7), ERA (1.69), FIP (2.49), and they have the lowest walk rate (6.0 percent) in that span. And it’s not even particularly close. The second-best Boston Red Sox rotation has been worth one win above replacement, has a 3.41 ERA, and they have a 3.40 FIP. No other rotation has a FIP below 3.00, and no other rotation has an ERA under 2.10.

As the Indians’ official Twitter accounted noted, the pitching staff (including the bullpen) has struck out double-digit batters in 12 straight games. They’re the only team to ever do it.

Maybe even more impressive is how quick the turnaround came. Remember early in the season when Kluber and Salazar were injured, Carrasco was inconsistent, and Bauer was just all-around bad? All of that added up to a league-worst ERA through June 10. Again courtesy of a stat lookup from the Tribe’s Twitter team, they now have the best ERA in the league.

Their furious two months of work also has them now leading the league in strikeout rate (27.9 percent), and they have one of the lowest walk rates at 7.2 percent. Keep in mind these season totals include Josh Tomlin’s struggles, as well as Carlos Carrasco’s two weeks from hell a little while back. In the span of a little over two months they went from worst to first, which is incredible. Let’s dig a little more into how they did it.

The rotation is, of course, led by their ace, Corey Kluber, who has 151 strikeouts since returning from the disabled list on June 1 and has struck out at least eight batters in every one of those 14 starts. Despite missing a huge chunk of the season with injury, Kluber is making a real case to be the American League Cy Young. If nothing else, he’s creating a conversation about it, unlike the rest of the American League which had conceded the award to Chris Sale prior to Kluber’s resurgence.

Danny Salazar has dealt with his own injuries, including whatever mental issues were holding him back, if any. But now he’s back. Not just back, but like back. In five starts since he returned from his latest disabled list trip, he has 46 strikeouts to just nine walks. More importantly for Salazar, he’s allowed just one home run in that span and five runs total. You may never see Danny Salazar have a 30.6 percent strikeout-to-walk ratio again in your life, so bask in it while you can. But like watching a rare event like a solar eclipse, don’t look directly into it. It’s too hot for your fragile little retina to handle.

Lest this guy get really mad online at me again, here’s a paragraph about Trevor Bauer. There’s no defining moment when Bauer rounded into Good Bauer again, and there rarely is — he’s just kind of a streaky pitcher who is really good when he’s good. No injury change, no mental break that caused everything to click. But over his last four starts, he has 33 strikeouts in 28.2 innings. His five home runs allowed looks bad, but three of those came in one game, and they were all solo shots.

While it hasn’t always been great this season, the starting rotation’s return to greatness is a huge reason the Indians are currently enjoying a six-game lead in the American League Central. And dare I say look out in October with Kluber-Carrasco-Salazar rolling up in your face? I do. I do dare.