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Is It Better to Fade Now Than Later?

Damn, this sucks. I can’t remember the last time we won a game before last night’s 5-2 victory. Is anyone playing well? Sunday should have been the day. Our ace was going up against a guy making his major league debut. There was a fifty-fifty chance that Jose Alvarez would come out and walk the first five batters, because that’s what happens in major league debuts. But the Indians made Alvarez look like Justin Verlander. Masterson was solid, but we are at a stage where our starters need to be perfect, and he wasn’t. With the Rangers and Nationals to follow, the schedule won’t fix our problems.

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So what to do? This is where your rotation needs to step up. Every team has a stretch of 10-15 games at some point in the season where they can’t do anything right. The good teams, though, have one or two starting pitchers who can keep them in games so that they can steal a 2-1 win here and there. That turns an 0-10 streak into a 3-7 streak, and a 3-7 streak will usually only cost you three or four games in the standings. You can make that up with one good series.

The Indians just don’t have that guy. We keep thinking it’s Justin Masterson, but aces just don’t make stupid mistakes. I mean, Don Kelly? During Sunday’s game Tom Hamilton mentioned that Masterson was excellent except for one bad pitch. That’s what Hammy does, anything he can to build up the Indians (although when he does it by deriding other teams and their fans, as he did when he ridiculed the Tigers fans for running for cover during a light rain, it seems petty). But the reality is that Masterson made three bad pitches. Otherwise, it would have only been a solo home run.

Think how differently things would have seemed if the Indians had gone to the eighth and ninth innings down 2-1 to the Tigers. We would have had the tying run on in each of the last three innings and would have opened up a lot more options than were available at 4-1. It makes you wonder if Masterson is destined to peak just below the top-tier of pitchers.

It’s a critical distinction to make because the Indians are in the process of deciding what sort of extension to offer him. He will get $12-$14 million a year on the open market simply by virtue of his durability and potential, which keeps him in the Indians budget, but I doubt they will commit to the five or six years it will take to keep him if he doesn’t show more consistency.

And no, I’m not picking on Masterson. No starting pitcher had an ERA below six during this losing streak. Until Sunday the Indians had actually scored at least three runs in every game during the streak, so the offense hadn’t been nearly as bad as it seemed. Even a half-decently pitched game by a starter would have gotten us to the late innings with a chance to win, but such a performance never occurred.

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Personally speaking, this is good news. My preseason Wroundtable prediction was that the Indians would stumble in the first half, then Bauer and Carrasco would join the rotation at the All-Star break and lead a resurgence that brings the team to the brink of contention. The events of the past two weeks probably brought that theory closer to reality.

Had the Indians stayed within a game or two of Detroit into July or even August, it would have given the front office justification for sticking with the status quo. In my mind, this team is set up to make a serious run in 2014, a scenario that becomes much more likely if Bauer and Carrasco get a full season under their belts before then.

The same goes for Lonnie Chisenhall. Give him four hundred at bats, and by the end of the season they should know if they need to go out and find a third baseman for next year. The worst case scenario would be to approach another offseason not knowing, which is what will happen if Chisenhall finishes this season with 150 or 200 at bats. The Indians risk gambling that he is ready to contribute, or spending free agent dollars on another third baseman and ending up with Chisenhall turning into another Brandon Phillips. (Editors Note: Ramon Vazquez had an option left.)

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Tags: Carlos Carrasco Cleveland Indians Justin Masterson Lonnie Chisenhall Trevor Bauer

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