An Emaciated Rotation
Some variation of the following phrase must have been written at least a couple thousand times by now, including by me: The Indians entered the 2016 postseason without two of their top three starting pitchers, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar.
With Corey Kluber’s recent oblique injury, it’s looking like a similar fate awaits the Tribe’s starting rotation this season. At best, they get Kluber back at the very end of the season with minimal–if any–time for him to get back into form.
Moreover, Trevor Bauer is gone, and though Carrasco looks set to return in a relief role in the near future, that leaves the Indians with two pitchers from their Opening Day rotation heading into the playoffs. The glass-half-full perspective is that Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger are both capable of doing what Kluber did in 2016.
The Indians rode their ace, asking Bauer and Josh Tomlin to keep games close in order to give the bullpen a chance. Both Bieber and Clevinger are more reliable now than the ’16 version of Bauer, but who becomes 2019’s Josh Tomlin?
Adam Plutko’s contact rates allowed to opposing hitters are absolutely terrifying in a playoff setting, but it could be him. Plutko is the only remaining available starter with multiple professional seasons (including minors) of at least 150 innings.
Zach Plesac has already surpassed his previous career high of 144.2 in 2018, while Aaron Civale is on pace to soar past his own marks of 107.2 and 106.1, respectively, in the last two seasons. Like it or not, workload management is a high priority among front offices when it comes to young pitchers.
Plutko’s arm has the established track record of holding up over a full season’s worth of innings, and for that reason, he could be the guy the Indians ask to give them five in a playoff game without letting things get out of hand–a tall task for a pitcher with a 48.2% fly ball rate.
If Civale in particular keeps pitching like he has for the next month, however, it’s going to be extremely difficult to justify passing on him as the third starter in a Kluber-less playoff rotation. Civale is the only one of the three with a strikeout rate above 20%, and his 2.23 FIP is significantly lower than Plesac’s or Plutko’s.
One or both of Civale and Plesac could be called upon to provide an emergency Ryan Merritt-like outing, if nothing else.