Jul 29, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians relief pitcher Carlos Carrasco (59) delivers in the seventh inning against the Seattle Mariners at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Can the Indians Ride Pitching to the Playoffs?

At the All-Star break, the Indians were 47-47, 7.5 games out of first place in the AL Central. The Indians ranked 22nd in team ERA (3.98), 25th in team WHIP (1.35), yet, the team’s FIP was 13th in MLB (3.74). Furthermore, the starter’s ERA was 26th (4.49) with an FIP that ranked 14th in MLB (3.80). When the Tribe lost Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez to free agency after the 2013 season, the lack of movement on the Indians part to fill those holes was worrisome, and the instability of the first 94 games didn’t help to ease any of the questions that the team left itself open continue to address.

Everyone can sit back and say that the metrics screamed that the Indians and their rotation were going to rebound. Fielding Independent Pitching is a great predictor of such a thing; however, pitching isn’t “fielding independent” and the Indians rank last in baseball with a -83 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). So, the answer was to get rid of their ace, Justin Masterson, who became the weakest link in the starting pitching chain in the course of a single season, transitioning from their go-to arm to an arm that they had to run away from for a Double-A outfield prospect in James Ramsey.

Aug 9, 2014; Bronx, NY, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber (28) pitches during the first inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Since the Masterson trade, the Indians are 17-10 and their pitching has taken off. The last 30 days (entering play Sunday), the pitching staff has a 2.40 ERA (1st in MLB) and an FIP of 2.91 (1st in MLB). The starters are sporting a 2.63 ERA and 2.83 FIP over that time, getting absolutely insane production out of Carlos Carrasco (0.73 ERA and three wins in four starts and 24.2 innings), while getting continued ace-like production out of Corey Kluber (2.10 ERA and 11.27 K:9 with two wins in five starts). Not to mention, the electricity in Danny Salazar‘s arm has apparently been restored, as the 24-year-old right-hander has a 2.77 ERA over his last five starts, while allowing the opposition to hit just .229/.291/.319 with just two home runs since his return to Cleveland on July 22nd. Add in the dysfunctional-from-the-norm mechanics of Trevor Bauer, and the Indians have a front four that has outperformed the top rotations in baseball over the last month, particularly the Detroit Tigers, who have seen the Indians and Royals streak through the quad and into the gymnasium quicker than “Frank the Tank” looking for some KFC.

Now, heading into the four-game series in Cleveland with the Tigers, the Indians are set up perfectly. Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco are set to make two starts apiece over the next seven days, making many in the world of fantasy baseball playoffs rejoice in such findings; however, those celebrations pale in comparison to the hope that lining up your ace for a battle with David Price and the Tigers brings to the Indians’ hopes and dreams of playoff inclusion.

The answer to the question above is: most certainly, yes. The Indians pitching, so responsible for their early season contention purgatory, has elevated itself to not only get the club’s head above water, but to soar above the figurative water while hunting for the next club on the schedule that they can continue to baffle and dominate.

You’ve likely been reading our Hot Streak Breakdown series (and if you haven’t, you should), but you can’t really single out one man right now in the Indians rotation. After T.J. House allowed five hits and one run over a career-high seven innings on Sunday night in Kansas City, it’s officially madness in thinking that anyone should feel any bit of confidence in entering the batter’s box to face Indians starting pitching right now.

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs. 

Tags: 2014 Player Analysis Cleveland Indians Corey Kluber

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