Watchers of the Cleveland Indians have been privy to a preview of how the pitching will work the pitching staff will be worked this past week. After last season, there is an expectation of sorts that Terry Francona will again manage in some kind of novel, new way that will break the conventions of baseball and use up tankers full of digital ink. But the managing wizardy of last year happened because the Indians were in a bind. Damage to the pitching staff meant Tito had to get weird with what he had. And weird it was. A long, strange trip late into October. This year is different. They’re healthy. They’re deeper in the ‘pen. The way we watch the Tribe throw the ball should look a bit different. While this isn’t iron-clad because anything can happen, I imagine the Indians’ opponents will get three (and a half) distinct looks.
This is pretty self-explanatory. Here at Let’s Go Tribe we’ve probably written a book’s worth of posts on the many amazing ways Corey Kluber obliterates batters. He’s probably got the inside track to the Cy Young. We can’t expect Kluber to go out and pitch an complete game every outing in October of course(right?), but he’ll certainly be the backbone of the staff, the tone-setter. Expecting seven innings isn’t out of hand though. He's having the best season of his career, and against any AL teams he might face in the Playoffs he's thrown 38 1/3 innings and allowed 10 runs, good for a 2.36 ERA, and struck out 53 batters against nine walks. He has unfinished business and has thrown barely 200 innings by season’s end. He is here for another beautiful October.
Cookies and Miller
This is where we depart from last year. Not having Carlos Carrasco in the postseason put a lot of pressure on Kluber and the bullpen, and ultimately led to that Game Seven performance where Kluber was simply out of gas. Having a little buddy like Carrasco has been takes a big load off his shoulders. And what we saw on Wednesday against a playoff team is exactly what we should expect. Again, like Kluber, we shouldn’t expect 8 ⅓ shutout innings with 14 strikeouts, but sevenish before he hands the ball to Miller? That’s fine with me. It’s not really always Miller of course, that heading just sounded great. It could be Cookies and Allen, or whoever might work in the moment. But suffice to say, the presence of Carrasco is a mighty change from what happened a year ago. This year 19 of his 32 starts made it into the seventh inning, and of those only allowed four or more runs five times. He's had off days, but he's been throwing his slider more and more, and it's proven to be vital weapon. I'll get into that more in a couple days. He's the front-end starter the Indians needed last year. Let's see it work.
Army of Arms
Finally, the fun part. Well, Carrasco is awesome, and fun too. But the other fun part. The Indians doled out a taste of this with the Salazar start, but come the postseason and all the off days worked in (and Carrasco being healthy along with Kluber) there's potential for few more key eaten innings and a lot more freedom for Francona to mess around with the other games with a well-rested bullpen. Which can result in hell for the opposing batters. Assuming Tito gets real weird with it, here's where the ball will be coming from on just one of these "bullpen days" in the postseason:
That is, in rough order, the release points of Danny Salazar, Mike Clevinger, Tyler Olson, Joe Smith, Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen. Surely, dear reader, you can imagine all of them appearing in one game with Francona at the helm. Plainly there will be some shifting around on that, but it gives a hint at what will be coming at hitters. Along with the many angles is a varied arsenal that is rife with 96 mph cutters, 98 mph four-seamers, Knee-buckling splitters, murderous sliders, three or four different curves, and a weird sidewinder or two. Last year was neat enough, but with the varied attack angles and tools given to the wily Francona we're bound to see a lot of strolls to the mound, and not many runs scored.
The Wild Card
Trevor Bauer is the Charlie/Murdock of the Indians pitching staff. You want him there, you need him there to round out the crew, but you just never know what is going to happen. And if you were curious, Kluber is the leader/Hannibal type, Carrasco the Face Man, and Salazar and Clevinger kind of combine to be the muscle/B.A. Baracus I guess. Maybe Tomlin could be Face, he “finds ways to get it done”. This is fodder for a whole article, never mind.
Bauer has the talent to go seven or eight innings against even the best of teams, which he’s done. He could also lose the feel of his fastball or curve and get blasted out of the game in the second inning. Or somewhere in the middle, and be more like what we saw a year ago. We should expect a quick hook of any pitcher not named Kluber. But if Bauer's cutter/slider/whatsit is behaving along with his other primary pitches then he can roll out a 7ish inning outing with a couple handfuls of strikeouts and a run or two allowed. If that’s the case, this team is indomitable. That’s simply the best playoff rotation since the 2011 Phillies, with a better offense. It’s right to be a bit nervous about Bauer. It’s also right to sort of expect an excellent outing. He’s been excellent for three months now. Why would that stop because the leaves are turning?
None of this is cut and dry. I anticipate Miller being featured over others again, though Francona might take it a bit more easy on him with the DL stint and cut down on the multi-inning outings. The Indians have a better bullpen this year, much more depth. Last year after Shaw the next guy in the pecking order was a pre-rediscovering the curve Zach McAllister,and there was no other lefty except Miller. Olson adds considerable versatility and takes the weight off Miller as LOOGY, and Smith is quite excellent himself and an incredible change of pace with his funky delivery. If it all goes well though, we should only see that army of arms once or twice a series, depending on the Bauer that shows up. Seeing the staff at full strength like this, or as close to full strength as one could hope for after 162 games at least, is what we wanted a year ago. Now to see if it works like it's supposed to.