Does it ever seem like things may just be a little too good to be true? Take the 2013 Cleveland Indians for example.
The Tribe is currently 18-14. They’ve won 10 of their last 11 ball games. And, most importantly, they’re only one game behind the Detroit Tigers for first place in the American League Central.
How in the world did this happen?
Less than two weeks ago, in the early evening hours of Sunday, April 28, the Indians’ record stood at 8-13. They hardly looked like a team ready to compete for the AL Central. Hell, they hardly looked like much of a team at all.
Yet, since that moment, the Indians have gone 10-1 and are now arguably playing their best baseball in over two years. So, what’s been the difference?
The easy answer is offense, and that also seems like an applicable answer. During the past 11 games, the Indians have averaged 6.9 runs per games.
But while offense is certainly a fair answer, the more accurate answer is pitching; the Indians have allowed only an average of 2.36 runs per game during the past 11 games, and the opposition has only scored more than three runs on two occasions.
It’s blatantly obvious that the Indians offense and pitching staff will be unable to maintain this torrid pace, but this current 11-game sample size is incredibly encouraging nonetheless.
Heading into the season, the main question surrounding the Indians and their chances of contending was the pitching staff. Everyone knew that the team had a potentially explosive offense, but would the rotation be able to complement the offense?
Thus far, the answer to that question is a resounding yes as the above statistics demonstrate just how impressive the pitching has been. Also, while a regression is inevitable, there are three big reasons as to why the pitching staff could continue to be one of the Tribe’s strengths.
Of the aforementioned players, two (Bauer and Carrasco) are Major League ready right now. The other was just promoted to Triple-A Columbus, and he could legitimately become an option at some point later this season.
All of these players could and likely will impact the Indians’ rotation at some point this season.
A case could even be made that that time should come sooner rather than later. That may be especially true in the case of Bauer and Carrasco.
At this point, both Bauer and Carrasco are essentially finished products. Yes, Bauer still needs to work on his control and yes, Carrasco still needs to work on the emotional side of things, but those issues can and probably should be worked on at the Major League level.
Carrasco especially has nothing left to prove in the minor leagues. In five games and 23 2/3 innings this season with the Clippers, Carrasco has an ERA of 1.90 and is striking out 9.1 batters per nine innings while walking 1.1 batters per nine. Do those numbers look like those of a Quad-A player?
The answer to that question is obviously no, but the reality is that Carrasco has been banished to Triple-A because of his growing reputation as a headhunter. Even still, the Indians cannot possibly continue to have him spend time in the minors when it’s evident that it’s doing Carrasco no good.
Yes, Carrasco does need to learn how to control his emotions, but he needs to learn how to control his emotions in the Major Leagues. It’s pointless for him to continue to dominate a level that he first played in during the 2008 season.
A similar case can be made for Bauer and the need to promote him to the Cleveland rotation. For Bauer, the issue is command.
In two games with the Indians this season, Bauer has walked a total of 13 batters (seven in game one and six in game two). For the stat hounds out there, that’s an average of 11.7 walks per nine innings. No, that’s not a typo either.
Yet, for all his command issues, Bauer has been dominant in other aspects. He’s allowed only a total of three hits and three runs in 10 innings and the runs can be attributed to his free passes more than anything else.
However, the command issue is not nearly as severe for Bauer in the minors. In four starts and 24 2/3 innings with the Clippers, Bauer is walking 3.6 batters per nine while striking out 11.3 batters. The walk totals are still somewhat high, but it’s not the massive detriment that it has been in the Majors.
That seems to lead toward one conclusion — nerves.
Bauer clearly has great stuff and walks are one thing that really should not fluctuate too much from level to level provided that a pitcher continues to make quality pitches. Because of that, it seems fair to conclude that Bauer is probably a bit too revved up when he makes his starts in Cleveland, which probably leads to some of the free passes.
So, how do you solve that problem?
Well, it’s not necessarily an easy problem, but the only way it gets solved is by having Bauer continue to make starts in Cleveland. He has nothing left to learn in the minors, so the Indians will have to decide when they want to make this move.
The last pitcher mentioned in the above list was Danny Salazar, who was promoted to Columbus following his stellar outing on Tuesday.
Salazar is a flamethrower who has seen his stock rise drastically during the past season and a half. Salazar, who was ranked as IBI’s No. 5 prospect heading into this season by Tony Lastoria, has gotten off to an exceptional start with Double-A Akron as he has a 2.67 ERA in seven starts and 33 2/3 innings of work.
Perhaps more impressive is the fact that he’s compiled 51 strikeouts (13.6 K/9) during those 33 2/3 innings. I know, it’s easy to see why this guy has since moved on to Columbus.
Salazar is not an immediate option in Cleveland, and he is also still being kept to a strict 85-pitch limit as the Indians are still monitoring his recovery from Tommy John surgery in August 2010.
But what happens if he continues to dominate at this torrid pace?
It’s not unreasonable to believe that he could go out to Columbus and rack up double-digit strikeouts regularly. In fact, it’s probably quite likely.
So, the main point and question is this. The Indians right now have three legitimate impact arms at the Triple-A level who are either currently Major League ready or will likely be Major League ready soon. So, with that being said, how does the team go about getting these talents to the Show? That’s a hard question to answer.
Take a look at the performance from the current Indians starters over their past three starts or in the case of Corey Kluber, appearances.
How do you go about replacing any of those arms at this point?
The two safest players are obviously Justin Masterson and Zach McAllister. Masterson has struggled in his couple outings, but both him and McAllister seem to be in the Indians’ long-term plans provided the Tribe is able to resign Masterson to a long-term contract. Just take a moment to think about a future rotation led by Masterson, McAllister, Bauer, Carrasco and Salazar. Salivating yet?
The pitcher that most probably thought would be the first to be replaced would be Ubaldo Jimenez. However, he currently has a 3.06 ERA in his last three starts. It is Jimenez, so it’s highly probable that he’ll come down to Earth, but there’s simply no way you can replace him at this point.
The same goes for right-hander Corey Kluber. He has a nice arm, but at the end of the day, it’s still Corey Kluber, and it seems farfetched to believe that he could ultimately become anything more than a spot starter or maybe a back-of-the-rotation type. Still, at this point, he’s performing, and it would be silly to move him out of the rotation for one of the high-upside guys at Columbus.
Left-hander Scott Kazmir has also been impressive. In his last three games, Kazmir has a 2.65 ERA, and he’s 2-1. After his 10-strikeout performance on Thursday, Kazmir seems to be well on his way to reestablishing his value as a quality Major League starter.
Though he could still be the first player that is ultimately replaced because pitch counts are definitely going to become a factor.
With the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Independent League last season, Kazmir pitched only a total of 64 innings. Then, in the Puerto Rican Winter League, Kazmir pitched an additional 22 2/3 innings to give himself a grand total 86 2/3 innings in 2012.
So, what happens when Kazmir hits the 100-inning plateau this season? Think his arm holds up?
Consider the flip side though. What if Kazmir’s arm does indeed hold up, and what if he continues to pitch well? He’s obviously going to be a difficult guy to remove from the starting five.
In closing, think back to everything that had been said about the Indians’ rotation this past offseason. Everyone labeled it as a major hole, but after 32 games, it actually appears to be a major strength.
A regression probably is inevitable, but then there’s Bauer, Carrasco and Salazar, who are all waiting in the wings, ready to replace any weak links. There’s also a chance that Brett Myers returns to pitch, but could you even imagine him replacing any of these guys at this point?
However, if a regression does not occur, what happens to the three right-handers at Columbus? We know that additional time at Columbus does them no good, but does it do them harm?
We’ve heard the old cliché, “Too much of a good thing.” Could it be that that age-old phrase actually applies to this year’s Indians?