Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona announced his starting pitchers for the first four games of the ALCS this week. He will give the ball to Corey Kluber in Game 1, followed by Trevor Bauer in Game 2. When the series shifts to the Ruckus Rogers Center in Toronto for Game 3, Francona will run Josh Tomlin out for the start. He then revealed his plan to use rookie Mike Clevinger to start Game 4, in what would essentially be a bullpen game, as Clevinger would not be expected to throw more than a few innings to begin the game.
Francona’s plan for Game 4 is not shocking as he is limited in his options. However, there is something very unsettling about the idea of knowing you will need to expend that kind of firepower in your bullpen ahead of time.
I am not here to second guess Francona at all. He was masterful in the ALDS, sweeping the Boston Red Sox. I am just here to say that in the span of a seven-game series, a lot can happen effecting how and when a team uses its pitching staff.
Kluber’s start in Game 1 could go any number of ways. He could be forced to pitch deep into the game, presenting a scenario where it is reasonable for Francona to roll with Clevinger in Game 4. However, it also very possible that the game becomes one-sided in either team’s favor. In this scenario, Kluber could end up with a sub-100 pitch count, for any number of reasons. I think Francona already has it in his mind that Kluber could become an option to start on three days rest in Game 4.
If the Indians are losing in the series, it will be difficult to give the ball to Clevinger in Game 4, not to mention the toll it will take on the bullpen. If you are staring a potential 3-1 deficit in the face and your ace says he can go on short rest, you have to give him the ball.
Say the Indians are winning the series 2-1 and you have the chance to go up 3-1, heading back to Cleveland. Then doesn’t a win in that Game 4 get viewed as a kill shot of sorts? Wouldn’t it seem reasonable to give Kluber the ball in that scenario as well.
The point is this series will take shape quickly and each game will carry more leverage. Francona has been playing the leverage game with reliever Andrew Miller to huge success. What makes us think that he won’t do the same with Kluber when the time comes?
I think it is more likely that we see Corey Kluber take the ball in Game 4 on three days rest than it is we see Clevinger. Kluber would need to be kept under 8o pitches, in case he is needed in a potential Game 7, but we have seen a trend from Francona and I think it’s unlikely he leaves anything in the chamber. As for Bauer and Tomlin going on short rest, we have seen that they both are on a short leash as is. I don’t think that it is an issue for either of them.
By: Brad Ward
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