With the Cleveland Indians missing two starting pitchers, can the Corey Kluber put the team on his back just like Madison Bumgarner did for the San Francisco Giants two years ago?
Corey Kluber has been an animal for the Indians this year. A bonafide Cy Young candidate, Kluber has gone 17-9 with a 3.12 ERA, 215 strikeouts, and league-leading marks in ERA+ (153) and FIP (3.25) in 2016, but his biggest challenge lies front of him.
Kluber will be leading the suddenly depleted Indians pitching staff into the playoffs, but luckily for the Tribe, it looks like it will be a challenge the right-hander is ready for.
“I don’t think anybody’s in here feeling sorry for ourselves because of [Carlos Carrasco’s injury],” he said on Sunday. “I don’t think there’s a gloomy outlook or anything. Other guys have pitched well up to this point to get us where we are now, so I don’t think there’s any reason why we can’t continue to going forward.”
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While the pitching staff has been one of the team’s strengths this year, they are going to be limping into the playoffs. Carrasco and Danny Salazar have both been shut down due to injuries, though a Salazar return late in the postseason hasn’t been ruled out, Josh Tomlin was demoted out of the rotation for most of September due to his lack of production, rookie Mike Clevinger is largely unproven, and Trevor Bauer‘s command doesn’t always show up.
Manager Terry Francona has already said that he would pitch Kluber and Bauer on short rest during the playoffs, which is a necessity for the club, as right now the Indians rotation consists of just Kluber, Bauer, Tomlin, and Clevinger
Cleveland has already had a “bullpen day” on a couple of occasions this season, and it could very well become a possibility for the club in the postseason. Another option is that the Indians try former starter Cody Anderson (2-4, 6.24 ERA) in the rotation, but Anderson has been more effective out of the bullpen (1-1, 3.06 ERA out of the ‘pen) and isn’t sufficiently stretched out to throw starter innings.
So if the Indians are looking for a blueprint on how to ride an ace to a World Series win, they don’t have to reach too far back into history: the 2014 San Fransisco Giants.
Madison Bumgarner turned in one of the most dominant pitching performances in postseason history when he went 4-1 with a 1.03 ERA in the Giants’ run to the championship.
Bumgarner saved his best for the Fall Classic, winning two games, one of which was a four-hit shutout, and pitching the last five innings of Game 7 to earn the save and send the Kansas City Royals home empty-handed.
Now, the first question that you think of when you see a workload like that is how will it effect the pitcher’s arm? Entering the 2014 postseason Bumgarner had thrown 942.2 innings in his career, and in the two full seasons since, has tossed 424.2, and they’ve arguably been his best. The lefty has gone 32-18 with a 3.05 ERA since the Giants’ 2014 playoff run, and has mostly been a model of health and consistency.
Similarly, Kluber has been among the toughest workhorses in baseball the past two seasons, logging 426.2 innings entering play on Tuesday. That number increases to nearly 900 innings since he became a mainstay in the rotation in 2012.
Kluber still has yet to show any sharp statistical decline, despite his high work load. While he surprised the baseball world in 2014 when he won the CY Young award, he went just 9-16 in 2015, causing many to assume that the previous year had been a fluke or he had begun to decline. The reality was Kluber remained one of the top arms in the American League, he just didn’t get any run support.
The 30-year old’s performance this season has been a combination of better offensive output and his ability to adapt. Kluber’s fastball appears to have lost a couple of ticks on the radar gun, but his stellar command coupled with off-speed offerings as good as any in the game still make hitters look lost at the plate more often than not.
Bumgarner’s name will forever be entrenched in baseball lore due to his amazing postseason run in 2014. If the Tribe is able to end the franchise’s World Series drought this season, don’t be surprised if Kluber has added his name as well.