September 18, 2021

What Went Right and What Went Wrong Part I: Indians Pitching

Photo by Joe Sargent/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Part one of this two-part series will look at what went right and what went wrong for the Cleveland Indians pitching staff this season.

What Went Right:

Just about everything went right for the Indians pitching staff during the regular season. Starting pitcher Shane Bieber is almost a lock to win the AL Cy Young award after dominating the sixty-game slate. Bieber finished the season 8-1 with a 1.63 ERA, 122 strikeouts in 77.1 innings pitched. Overall, the pitching staff topped the American League with a 3.29 ERA and finished second just behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in all of baseball. Carlos Carrasco and Zach Plesac both had strong seasons finishing with ERA’s below three and rookie Triston McKenzie made six starts and finished with a 3.24 ERA.

The bullpen was just as impressive with Brad Hand, though up and down, finishing 16/16 in save opportunities. This season also saw the rise of rookie reliever James Karinchak, who had a fantastic rookie season. Karinchak made 27 appearances for the Indians and finished the season with a 2.67 ERA and looks to be the closer of the future. Coming into the season questions surrounded Oliver Perez and whether he could adjust to the new three batter rule. Perez would make 21 appearances and finish the year with a 2.00 ERA. He was able to be effective not just against lefties but also right-handed hitters.

The 2020 season once again solidified the Indians organization as one of (if not the best) pitching organizations in all of baseball. With the woeful offense, the Indians pitchers carried the Indians to another post season birth. Unfortunately, they ended up being the culprits for the Indians’ quick playoff exit.

What Went Wrong:

The only real blemish for the staff during the regular season was Plesac and Mike Clevinger breaking COVID protocols in Chicago. The bad decision by both pitchers led to mistrust by the rest of the team and both pitchers would spend time at the alternate training site in Lake County. Both pitchers would make amends and Clevinger would be traded to San Diego before the trade deadline. Otherwise, the Indians pitchers could do no wrong in the regular season.

Where it really went wrong was the wild card series against the New York Yankees. What looked to be a good pitching matchup between Gerrit Cole and Bieber quickly turned in to a 2-0 deficit after two hitters. It wouldn’t get much better for the Indians or Bieber as he struggled through 4.2 innings giving up seven earned runs. The usually reliable bullpen also struggled through the remainder of the game giving up another five earned runs in what would be a 12-3 Yankees win.

Game two started off promising for the Indians as they jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead after one inning. Carrasco would battle through a rain delay but eventually ran out of gas in the fourth where he loaded the bases and didn’t record an out. He would only go three innings and give up four earned runs. The bullpen didn’t fare much better as every reliever except Nick Wittgren (1.1 IP) and Cal Quantrill (0.1 IP) gave up at least one earned run. The Indians were up 9-8 heading into the top of the ninth and called in closer Brad Hand to finish it off. Hand, who was 16 for 16 in saves during the regular season, proceeded to give up two runs to the Yankees. That would end up being the nail in the coffin for the Tribe and the worst time for Hand to blow his first save of the season.

When it mattered most the Indians pitching failed them. On the positive side Bieber, Karinchak, McKenzie and the other young hurlers gained some needed playoff experience. Hopefully, this won’t set them back and will be something that they will learn and get better from. The Indians will return all five of their starting pitchers next year and will be expected to be one of the best rotations in the game. They will also most likely return most of their bullpen and hard-throwing Emmanuel Clase will return from his year-long suspension. No matter how this season ended more went right than wrong for the Tribe pitching staff and they should only get better next year.

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