On The Indians’ Surprising Starting Rotation Struggles | Extra Frames

The Cleveland Indians were assaulted for the fourth time in five games, losing to the New York Yankees in the first of a three-game series, 13-7.

This column features my takeaways from Thursday’s game. If you want more baseball coverage, you can follow me on Twitter (@TJZuppe).

1. The Indians starting rotation must be special for their club to separate themselves from the pack.

They must be dominant, deep and overwhelming to other clubs. They are the Indians’ advantage over baseball. And for most of the season, the Tribe’s starters have lived up to those expectations.

If not, Cleveland is very mortal. Without the production of one of baseball’s best rotations, they are extremely beatable and hardly an American League Central favorite. Quite frankly, even with average pitching, they’d struggle to remain a serious contender.

So, when is it time to sound the alarm?

2. Josh Tomlin was just the latest Indians starting pitcher to get shelled.

The righty, who had allowed seven runs over his previous three starts, allowed seven runs in 4 2/3 innings on Friday night, getting peppered early and often by the Yankees not-so-threatening bats.

You wouldn’t know it based on the way they swung the lumber in the series opener, being held scoreless in just two frames on Friday night.

The outing was so far from what Tomlin has typically given the Indians in almost every start this season, handing Cleveland a fighting chance nearly every time he takes the ball. But then again, the Indians have been dealing with a number of uncharacteristic outings from their starters over the past week.

3. Over the past five days, four of the Indians’ five regular starters have been knocked around.

Here is a taste of some of the carnage from the last trip through the Tribe’s normally stellar rotation.

  • Danny Salazar: 2.0 innings, 6 hits, 6 runs, 2 walks, 3 strikeouts, 3 home runs
  • Carlos Carrasco: 3.2 innings, 9 hits, 8 runs, 2 walks, 1 strikeout, 2 home runs
  • Trevor Bauer: 2.2 innings, 8 hits, 8 runs, 7 earned runs, 5 walks, 1 strikeout
  • Josh Tomlin: 4.2 innings, 9 hits, 7 runs, 2 walks, 2 strikeouts, 1 home runs
  • Total: 13 innings, 32 hits, 29 runs, 11 walks, 7 strikeouts, 6 home runs, 20.08 ERA

Uh, that’s certainly not what you want…

4. Is it just a blip on the radar or worth of concern?

In some ways doesn’t really matter. The Detroit Tigers are charging hard. Of course, it’s tough to just write off well over half a season of great contribution, but the rotation’s current rendition of hell week couldn’t be coming at a worse time.

The Indians’ division lead is back down to 2.0 games in the AL Central after another Tigers win on Friday night.

But there are other causes for concern. Most notably, it isn’t like the entire starting five wasn’t having some occasional hiccups prior to the recent stretch of subpar pitching.

Let’s take the month of July for example. Carrasco (2.22 ERA), Corey Kluber (2.51 ERA), Tomlin (3.73 ERA) were all pretty productive last month. But a poor month statistically for Salazar (6.14 ERA) and Bauer (6.43 ERA) had Cleveland as a whole sitting in the middle of the baseball’s pack with a 4.10 starters ERA.

Perhaps Salazar’s lingering elbow inflammation issue helped cause some of his erratic performance. Maybe his trip to the DL will help. The Indians certainly believe the 2-3 week break will be good for him. But an injury of any kind is never a reason for optimism.

5. As for any glimmer of hope, there are two potential reasons to feel better.

Kluber will take the mound for Cleveland on Saturday afternoon, with an opportunity to shut down this brutal week for the team’s starters. Isn’t that what aces are known to do?

Despite an early season filled with ridiculous what’s-wrong-with-Kluber conversation, the righty continues to top of the WAR leaderboards (via fangraphs) for AL pitchers and has lowered his season ERA to 3.27 with a handful of recent ace-like performances.

Over his last four starts, Kluber has allowed just four runs in 29 innings (1.24 ERA), striking out 31 and yielding a .594 opposing OPS over that stretch.

Now, the Tribe’s talented starter is literally their last line of defense.

Secondly, at least Cleveland’s offense hasn’t backed off. Over the past five games, the Indians are averaging 6.4 runs per game. And despite facing an early hole in four of the past five ballgames, the Tribe’s offense has managed to make things interesting on more than a few occasions.

But at some point, the team’s biggest strength needs to start performing like they’re capable. If not, their division lead won’t be a lead much longer.

More from T.J. Zuppe | 92.3 The Fan
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