The Cleveland Indians are going to make the playoffs. This was all but certain heading into the 2018 season — FanGraphs gave them a 96.6 percent chance of making the postseason on Opening Day — and their recent surge away from the rest of their divisional competition has all but punched their ticket to October baseball. Today, their playoff odds sit at 99.3 percent, with a 99.2 percent chance of winning the AL Central. Even our friends at Let’s Go Tribe have started to take their victory lap.
So, instead of breaking down the ins and outs of this particular game, let’s talk about Cleveland’s strategy in the postseason. The Indians have four excellent starters leading their rotation in Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, and Saturday starter Mike Clevinger. Shane Bieber has emerged to give the Indians one of the best five-man rotations in baseball. Conventional wisdom would suggest that Bieber would slide to the bullpen in the playoffs, giving them another weapon to add to a now-robust unit (following the trade for Brad Hand and Adam Cimber).
But what if Cleveland went in another direction? Moving someone like Clevinger or Carrasco to the bullpen would still leave them with a strong four-man rotation, assuming Bieber stays healthy and effective. More importantly, it would further bolster the ‘pen in late inning situations, and give them yet another top-flight arm to throw at the Yankees, Red Sox, or Astros in a seven-game series. Depending on how long the series goes, that bullpen arm might throw more innings than a fourth starter anyway, and they would most certainly be in higher leverage situations. And in the right (or wrong) situation, that fourth starter might be skipped to give Kluber the ball on three days rest anyway.
The folks at Let’s Go Tribe disagree, but what about you? Let’s distract ourselves from another probable loss to our hated rivals by discussing how they will inevitably lose another playoff series.
Cleveland Indians (56-46) at Detroit Tigers (44-61)
Time/Place: 6:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Let’s Go Tribe
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Mike Clevinger (7-6, 3.43 ERA) vs. LHP Blaine Hardy (3-3, 3.77 ERA)
Game 106 Pitching Matchup
I’m not sure if we should be worried about Blaine Hardy. While his season-long ERA is still strong, his utility as a starter might be running out. He was roughed up by the Boston Red Sox in his last outing, departing after they scored four runs on five hits in just three innings. This is the second time Boston has knocked him around this season. While that’s not ideal, it’s not surprising either — stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Red Sox lineup is pretty good.
However, this is the third time in Hardy’s last five starts that he has surrendered at least four runs. He has the two bad starts against Boston on his ledger, as well as a rough outing against the Oakland Athletics. Only three of Oakland’s six runs in that game were earned, but they looked rather comfortable in the box against the 31-year-old lefty. The only two good starts in this stretch came against bad AL Central teams (the Twins and White Sox).
Personally, I wonder if it might be partially related to fatigue. Hardy has already logged 81 2⁄3 innings this season between Triple-A and the majors, his highest total since 2014 (86 innings). Hardy could surpass that mark with a decent start tonight, giving him a career-high innings total with two months still remaining in the regular season. It’s why I’ve wondered aloud just how long he will stick in the rotation this year, and could be a reason for his recent struggles.
Hardy’s issues could also be explained in a simpler way. The A’s and Red Sox have very good offenses, while the Twins and White Sox do not. Unfortunately for him, the Indians very much fall onto the “good” side of this equation.
Key matchup: The Tigers vs. beating a team from Ohio
The Tigers have lost seven consecutive games against the state of Ohio (five against the Indians, and two against the Reds). They are just 3-11 against Cleveland this season, and have to deal with Corey Kluber on Sunday. Please win this one, Tigers.
The Tribe offense explodes for 10+ runs.