Cleveland Indians: Will Pitcher Usage Become a Concern?

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Oct 25, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber throws a pitch against the Chicago Cubs in the 5th inning in game one of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 25, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber throws a pitch against the Chicago Cubs in the 5th inning in game one of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Cleveland Indians have a 1-0 lead in the World Series over the Chicago Cubs, but have they already stretched their pitching staff too thin?

The first game of the World Series could not have gone more to script for the Cleveland Indians. Get an early lead, let your starter do his thing, and then turn it over to arguably the most dominant bullpen in all of baseball. Mission accomplished.

But despite the visions of a sweep that are dancing through the minds of Tribe fans after Tuesday night’s 6-0 Game One win, this is a best-of-seven series that could well go the distance. And because of that, Cleveland has reason, if only theoretically, for concern.

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Corey Kluber turned in perhaps the greatest outing of his career in his first career World Series start, yielding just four hits in six shutout innings, while not surrendering a single walk and striking out nine. The right-hander’s comeback two-seamer was particularly effective, sending a number of Cubs’ hitters walking back to the dugout scratching their heads.

In all, Kluber threw 88 pitches on the night, well below what he’s capable of. The early hook, though, was not only a matter of turning things over to the bullpen, but also of preserving the only truly dependable arm in the starting rotation.

Kluber has now thrown 24.1 postseason innings in 2016, and in that span has allowed just two runs (0.74 ERA) while striking out 29. He’s the kind of starter that Cleveland only wishes it would have had in the mid-1990s when the club twice made the World Series and came away empty.

It is entirely within the realm of possibility, and some would necessity, that he will take the ball in Game Four and, if necessary, Game Seven as well.

Behind Kluber are Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin, both of whom have pitched admirably thus far in the postseason, but both of whom are prone to the not-so-infrequent tough outing. The pair have combined for a 3.38 earned run average in the playoffs, allowing six runs in 16 innings, and putting up a 17-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

While both Bauer and Tomlin have been effective in a limited sample size thus far in the postseason, Indians fans will be forgiven if they’re reaching for the Maalox when either one is on the bump in this series. We’ve reached the point in the season where it’s fair to say anyone with a rooting interest in northeast Ohio is entitled to a little reflux if the guy on the mound to start a game isn’t wearing No. 28.

Complicating matters is the fact that Andrew Miller, the baseball demigod who has taken the 2016 postseason by storm, struggled a bit in his two innings on Tuesday night. Miller, who was named the MVP of the American League Championship Series as a result of no one in the contiguous 48 states or the entire country of Canada being able to touch his filthy arsenal, took a season-high 46 pitches to record six outs against Chicago.

The lanky lefty allowed a pair of hits and walked a pair of batters in his two innings of work, the latter of which equaled his base on balls total for the entire postseason to this point. Tip of the cap to the Cubs, who were obviously trying to take the long view and see as many pitches as possible against him in the hopes of sitting him down in Game Two.

The joke may be on Chicago, however, because this is the World Series, and it’s unlikely that Miller will be unavailable to the Indians unless his arm has literally detached from his body.

Next: Indians Win World Series Opener

Cleveland became only the fifth team in Major League Baseball history to toss four shutouts in a single postseason in Game One, which speaks to the high level the team’s mound corps is performing at. That superb play has the Indians a mere three wins away from a world championship, but a legitimate question about how long the club’s pitchers can keep this sort of thing up is at the forefront of every fan’s mind.

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