The Cleveland Indians will meet the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS. How should the Tribe approach its starting rotation?
Friday, October 14th, sometime a little after 8:00 p.m. in the Eastern time zone, a Cleveland Indians pitcher will wind and deliver to get the American League Championship Series underway. After sweeping their first round opponents, the Tribe and the Toronto Blue Jays will be meeting in the ALCS, with Game One being played at Progressive Field.
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But who will be the Cleveland hurler throwing that first pitch?
There should be no doubt that it will be Corey Kluber, the Indians’ ace and a contender for the American League Cy Young award. Any other choice would be highly unlikely.
Kluber did not pitch Game One of the ALDS against the Boston Red Sox, though, as he recovered from a mild strain of the right quadriceps that forced him to miss his final start of the regular season. But the right-hander showed no signs of being worse for the wear in Game Two, as he tossed seven dominant, three-hit, shutout innings.
Beyond the first game against Toronto, though, there are a number of scenarios for how manager Terry Francona could set up the Tribe’s rotation.
Trevor Bauer, who started Game One against the Red Sox, is the obvious choice to pitch the second game against the Blue Jays, and not just because he’s the “No. 2 starter” for Cleveland in the postseason. Throwing Bauer in Game Two at home means Josh Tomlin, the winner of the decisive, sweeping third game against the BoSox, will start on the road.
Allowing Tomlin to pitch in the Rogers Centre serves two purposes:
Everyone just saw from his Game Three performance at Fenway Park that a hostile environment doesn’t affect him
The Rogers Centre was just the 17th-most hitter-friendly park in terms of home runs in 2016, and Tomlin, despite his recent success at keeping the ball in the yard, is prone to giving up the longball.
This is where things get interesting, as Francona will have to decide if Kluber goes in Game Four on short rest, or if someone else takes the ball. This will depend, in part, on how much the club trusts rookie Mike Clevinger, who did not appear in the ALDS and hasn’t pitched since October 1st, and the health of Danny Salazar.
Salazar has a good chance of being on the ALCS roster as a bullpen arm, and the Indians could opt to go with a piggyback approach to the fourth game with he and Clevinger, much as was discussed prior to the Boston series.
The Tribe could do that, but that doesn’t mean they should. Ride your ace and give Kluber the ball on four days’ rest, and do the same with Bauer and Tomlin in Games Five and Six if necessary. And then double down and throw Kluber again if a Game Seven is played.
Kluber, Bauer, and Tomlin are such fierce competitors, they will not shy away from the challenge, and the Cleveland bullpen has the arms, particularly if Salazar returns, to handle a more demanding, pressure-packed workload.
Francona has pushed all the right buttons all season long with his team, and especially in the ALDS. There’s no reason not to believe he won’t continue to do so against the Jays with a trip to the World Series on the line. The Indians may be thin in their rotation, but Tito has proven he can squeeze the most out of it. The Tribe has a workhorse ni Kluber, and they need to ride his right arm to the Fall Classic.