CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Indians are steamrolling their way to a second straight American League Central Division Championship, and subsequently, a third trip to the Major League Baseball Playoffs since Terry Francona took over as manager in 2013.
When the playoffs begin, the Indians (81-56) will have to make some tough decisions as it relates to the pitching rotation, but barring injuries, they could go four-deep with starters. That is in stark contrast to 2016, when Corey Kluber and Josh Tomlin were the only healthy arms they had to take the mound.
Here is how the Indians’ rotation could look when they get to October baseball.
Game 1: Corey Kluber
The unquestioned leader of the pitching staff, Kluber will be the one charged with getting the Indians off to a good start in a playoff series.
Off the disabled list for a month after being hampered by a lower back strain, Kluber finished off a strong performance throughout the month of June with a 12-strikeout showing over eight innings of work in a 5-1 win over the Texas Rangers at Progressive Field on June 29.
That win was Kluber’s fourth in the month of June and marked the sixth straight game in which he went at least six innings. In Kluber’s 24 starts this season, only twice has he failed to make it through the sixth inning.
On the season, Kluber has struck out 222 hitters against just 33 walks with 118 hits and 48 earned runs allowed over 168.2 innings of work. Kluber has a 14-4 record and 2.56 earned run average, the best of any Indians starting pitcher.
The AL Pitcher of the Month for both June and August, Kluber has struck out at least seven batters in 17 of his last 18 games.
Game 2: Carlos Carrasco
Last September, Carrasco suffered broken bones in his hand and was lost for the balance of the season, which proved costly, as the Indians were forced to cobble together a rotation with both him and Danny Salazar on the sidelines.
When Carrasco returned for the 2017 season, he did so ready to make an impact, and he has certainly done that.
Carrasco is 13-6 with a 3.67 ERA over 27 starts. In those outings, Carrasco struck out 183 hitters over 164.1 innings of work with 143 hits, 67 earned runs and 40 walks allowed. Carrasco’s 183 strikeouts put him on pace for a new single-season high, surpassing the 216 he registered in 2015.
Game 3: Trevor Bauer
Even before the current 12-game winning streak began, the Indians saw Bauer emerge as the type of talent who was selected with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2011 MLB Draft.
In the month of August, Bauer posted a 5-0 record and 2.30 earned run average in seven appearances, including six starts. Over 39.0 innings of work, Bauer allowed 10 earned runs and nine walks against 40 strikeouts.
Bauer earned two wins each over the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, the top two teams in the AL East Division, as well as one against the Kansas City Royals.
Then, in 6.1 innings of work against the White Sox Monday, Bauer allowed just three hits, two earned runs and one walk against nine strikeouts. Over his last nine starts, Bauer has a 2.50 ERA, and his 15 wins on the season are the most on the team.
On the season, Bauer is 15-8 with a 4.39 ERA in 28 games, including 27 starts. Over 151.2 innings of work. Bauer has 170 strikeouts against 56 walks.
Game 4: Josh Tomlin
Francona is loyal to veterans whom he has been in the trenches with, and Tomlin certainly fills that bill.
Despite struggling through the first three months of the season, Tomlin got his game back on track in July before missing a month because of injuries. Over his last six starts, Tomlin has posted a 4-0 record and lowered his ERA by nearly one full run in just over two months.
On the season, Tomlin is 8-9 with a 5.20 ERA with 88 strikeouts in 116.0 innings.
Injury Replacement: Ryan Merritt
In last Wednesday’s win over the Yankees in a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium, Merritt scattered five hits, two walks and one earned run over 5.1 innings of work on the way to his second victory of the season.
Over five games for the Indians this season, including four starts, Merritt has posted a 2-0 record with a 1.74 ERA. Over 20.2 innings of work, Merritt has allowed 26 hits and four walks, but only four earned runs.
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