Trevor Bauer finally looks like he’s getting his pro career on track and living up to the expectations that come with being the No. 3 overall draft pick. Ranked as the ninth best prospect by Baseball America after the 2011 season, Bauer sank to 83rd after a disappointing 2013 campaign in which the re-tooling of his windup made many scratch their heads over the acquisition of the former UCLA phenom from the Arizona Diamondbacks two winters earlier.
And while the road got a little rocky, Bauer is now trending upward. He was promoted from Class AAA Columbus (4-1, 2.15 ERA) for a second time this spring with the Indians toiling in last place in the American League Central, 9 1/2 games behind the Detroit Tigers, which just happened to be the team Bauer had to face.
Talk about timing.
Oh, and he was facing former MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander.
Talk about really bad timing.
Throwing Bauer into a potential buzzsaw against the AL’s top-hitting club wasn’t ideal, but the 23-year old answered the bell, tossing six innings of seven-hit ball, while surrounding just two runs and striking out five en route to guaranteeing a series victory over a division rival.
At this point of the season, Bauer’s promotion was a no-brainer. There’s a lot of baseball to be played, but the Tribe needs to get it’s act together FAST. Key players are struggling to hit .200, the defense can’t catch a cold, and the closer’s job is now being handled by the Cross-Your-Fingers committee. Hopefully, Bauer is here to stay for good this time. This is a team loaded with imperfections, but in baseball, that old adage states a team is only as good as its starting pitching. Outside of Corey Kluber and a couple starts from Josh Tomlin, the Indians stink in that department.1
There are a lot of disappointments up and down the Tribe’s roster, but Danny Salazar is in the running for the grand prize. After starting the Tribe’s first playoff game since 2007 just seven months ago, I never thought Salazar would be this bad. At the time of his demotion, the left-hander was 1-4 with a 5.53 ERA. Five of his eight starts lasted five innings or fewer. By this point, we all know Salazar’s story. He can strike out the best of best, but he’ll rack up high pitch counts in the process.
And as Terry Pluto pointed out in his Sunday notes, he’s keeping pitches up in the strike zone, which is resulting in foul balls and home runs. It’s also worth pointing out that the opposition was batting. .301 against Salazar, with a .369 BABIP. In 2013, batters hit .226 with a .298 BABIP. Former Tribe hurler and FOX Sports analyst Jensen Lewis believes Salazar needs to correct his flaws at the big-league level and I agree. There’s nothing left for Salazar to dominate at Class AAA, but the Indians can’t afford to fall back any deeper in the standings, and frankly when Salazar pitches, the team is not winning (3-8 overall).
It doesn’t take an Executive of the Year to see the Indians lack a true No. 1 starter. Justin Masterson (2-3, 5.06) is the proclaimed ace of the of the staff, but he’d be second or third in the rotation elsewhere. Masty’s been anything but “Nasty” in 2014 and the Tribe brass looks brilliant by not agreeing to Masterson’s terms when the two sides were talking contract extension last March.
Masterson’s started 10 games, giving up five earned runs in half of those starts. Walks also continue to haunt the southwest Ohio native, as he’s issuing 4.3 per nine innings. Masterson’s walk percentage has been below 10 percent every year since 2009, but it currently sits at 10.6 percent—the same as when he was dealt to the Indians in 2009. Left-handed batters have been a thorn in Masterson’s side his entire career, and it continues to be a problem this season. Lefties are slashing .306/.386/.512, compared to right-handed batters .186/.313/.247. For all his problems against left-handers, he was much better last season (248/.340/.357).
The last time fans saw Zach McAllister (3-4) pitch, he was being shelled for eight runs in a 1 1/3-innings effort against Oakland.
He opened the season pretty solid and even won three consecutive starts, but Z-Mach has fallen off track of late and must start cutting the mustard for the rotation to be formidable. McAllister has taken losses in four of his last five outings, as his ERA has ballooned to 5.36.
Carlos Carrasco (0-3, 6.03 ERA) has great stuff, but I still don’t understand how he got the nod over Josh Tomlin, or even Bauer, for that matter. When asked to start, Carrasco hasn’t delivered and is the owner of 5.66 career ERA as a starter. Tomlin (2-1, 2.89 ERA), who really is the anti-Carrasco, has three quality starts in as many outings. He’s never going to light up the radar gun, but when he hits his spots, he can be effective.
Just look at the work. In 18 2/3 innings, he’s walked two batters! When Tomlin pitches, the Indians have a chance to win. I don’t know if the “Little Cowboy” will continue to be this good, but even if he can be the same pitcher he was in 2011 (12-7, 4.25 ERA 4.84/1.14 K/BB), I’ll take it.
Watching a Corey Kluber interview makes me yearn for the excitement of high school math class, unless he’s getting shelled with sunflower seeds by his teammates.
Fortunately for us, Kluber’s (4-3, 3.43) paid to pitch. He’s been the most consistent thing this year’s Indians have had to a starting pitcher and he’s putting together a great year in record-setting fashion. He recently set a franchise record by fanning seven in a row earlier in the year, and he became the sixth Tribe pitcher since 1914 to have multiple games with at least 11 punchouts through the team’s first 31 games. Kluber’s 74 strikeouts rank third in all of baseball (as of May 20).
It’s unbelievable this team can be only three games out of a wildcard spot after playing some pretty bad baseball through its first 46 contests. It hasn’t been pretty, but if the defense can get better, and batters hitting below the Mendoza Line climb back to their career norms, this club could hold our attention through the summer.
The starting rotation was the biggest question mark surrounding this club entering the year, and those doubts have held up. But if Kluber and Tomlin can carry the load, and Bauer becomes the Salazar of a year ago, and Masterson can somehow revert back to last season’s form, this team may have a chance.
Those last few sentences were loaded with a lot of “ands” and “ifs,” but the Cavs just won the lottery for the third time in four years. Anything can happen.
Cleveland starters rank 27th (out of 30) with a 4.65 ERA, as the opposing is batting .269. The rotation is seventh in walks (93), while leading the Majors in strikeouts (259). [↩]