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The flamethrowers of the defending American League champions report to Goodyear, Arizona on Sunday for the start of spring training. And once again, the Cleveland Indians possess one of baseball’s top pitching staffs which could pave the way for a very special and possibly historic 2017 season.
1956 was the last time two Tribe starters each won 20 games. In fact, three did it. Herb Score, Early Wynn and Bob Lemon all won 20 each. Fifteen years later, the 1971 Baltimore Orioles had four pitchers win 20. The Boston Red Sox were the last team to have two starters reach the coveted win mark, as Pedro Martinez (20) and Derek Lowe (21) did it in 2002.
The Indians could be the first team accomplish that feat in 15 years. Between Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin, Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer, no other team is in a better spot to do so than this one.
The ace, Corey Kluber is one of the best the game has to offer. So to say he could win 20 may be stating the obvious, though he has never done so in his career. Kluber won 18 games in 2016, missing the 20-win mark by just two. He started 32 games and suffered nine losses, leaving room for five no decisions. In those five no decisions, the game was tied twice and one time, he left the game with the lead. Kluber was one more run of support or a blown lead away from potentially 21 wins. He finished with an ERA of 3.14 and a team-high 227 strikeouts. He also threw two complete game shutouts. Corey continued his dominance in the postseason. He went 4-1, recorded 35 strikeouts and had an ERA of 1.83.
The Tribe offense was futile at times when the Klubot was on the bump. Of his 32 starts, they scored three or less runs 13 times. Of those 13 games, he won just two. However, when the team posted four or more runs in his starts, the Indians won 16 times. With the addition of Edwin Encarnacion, this team figures to give Kluber plenty of run support. Expect 20 wins from Corey and a Cy Young-type year — an award he won back in 2014.
Looking at the rest of the rotation, who else can potentially rack up 20?
The best bet would be the man they call “Cookie,” Carlos Carrasco. After fracturing a bone in his throwing hand in September, Carrasco was forced to miss multiple starts and the playoffs. Before his injury, Carrasco was feeling it. He had the second-best ERA among the starters at 3.32. He also struck out 151 batters and walked just 34. Not to mention, he threw two shutouts. Finishing at 11-8, Carrasco’s record simply didn’t tell the story of the talent he possesses. If Cookie stays healthy in 2017, watch out. This could be the year he really breaks out.
Josh Tomlin. This man started 2016 red hot! The Cowboy won seven of his first eight starts, throwing shutouts in every one of those wins. It looked as though Tomlin was going to break out and have a ridiculous season that no one in the baseball world saw coming. Then August came. He lost five straight starts, giving up an average of 5.6 runs per outing and pitching an average of just four innings. He was getting shelled and it was plain to see that things just weren’t clicking. This led to him being sent to the bullpen for two weeks before returning to the rotation after Carrasco’s injury. In his last four starts, he won twice, lost once and recorded a no decision. Tomlin culminated the regular season with 118 strikeouts and surrendered just 20 walks, a team best.
Once the postseason rolled around, Tomlin channeled his inner-April/May. In the ALDS against Boston, he started the series-clinching Game 3. Giving up just two earned runs and recording four strikeouts in five innings pitched. In the ALCS against Toronto, he was brilliant in Game 2. He struck out six and gave up just one run against another highly talented offense. His start in Game 3 of the World Series was brilliant again, giving up zero runs and surrendering just two hits in 4.2 innings pitched. However, he was beat up in Game 6, giving up six runs in just 2.1 innings.
If Tomlin pitches the way he did in April and May for six months, look out. We could see him get 15 or more wins, and if he can minimize the home runs, maybe even flirt with 20.
He likes to fly drones. He is a 16-year-old kid, trapped inside of a 26-year-old man’s body. He even blocked me on Twitter (seriously). He is Trevor Bauer. Striking out 168, ranking second among Tribe pitchers, was his best stat. After striking out 170 in 2015, Bauer showed that his best asset is his ability to rack up those K’s. Control issues tend to be a bit of an issue for Trevor. He allowed 70 walks in 2016, down from 79 in 2015. A 12-8 record in 35 starts was his best year in the majors. He had his second-best season in terms of ERA, finishing at 4.26.
If Bauer can tie up a few loose ends in his game, he could be a dark horse in winning anywhere from 13 to 16 games. Now maybe he can unblock me on Twitter and forgive me for calling him out about his drone habits. My handle is at the top and bottom of this article if you forgot who I am.
Lastly, we have Danny Salazar. After suffering a right forearm strain in early September, Salazar was out of the rotation. He only started 25 games and managed to muster 11 wins. Unfortunately for Danny, he notched that 11th win on July 19th. In his last seven starts, he lost three games and recorded four no decisions, averaging just 3.1 innings pitched. Nevertheless, he had a strong year. He had a stretch of six straight wins between May 28th and June 29th. His 161 strikeouts ranked third among the starters. Like Bauer, walks were a bit of an issue. He issued 63 base on balls.
Salazar is entering his fifth year as a starter for the Indians. I expect this year to be his best yet. We should see improvements in every area of his game.
The Indians haven’t had a 20-game winner since Cliff Lee in 2008 — he won the Cy Young Award that year. It has happened seven times in this franchise’s rich history, where two or more pitchers won 20 games. In 2017, we will see a Cleveland pitcher bring home the first Cy Young Award in nine years. We will also see two 20-game winners for the first time since 1956.
It may seem like a bold prediction, as it is, but it is also a very realistic one. With what figures to be a very exciting and high-scoring offense, accompanied by a bullpen that slams the door shut nightly, the starting rotation is going to do a lot of winning.
Follow the author: @Banjo_440
Images via Sports Illustarted, FanSided, MLB.com and Sporting News
Stats via Baseball-Reference, Yard Barker and Baseball Almanac