The Indians hopes of getting back to the World Series, and one win further than they did last season, ride on the same arms they did one year ago. Corey Kluber drives the rotation, but, as was proven last fall, he can’t do it alone. The Cubs may not have ended their 108-year drought had Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar been healthy last October. For the first time since they went down last season, all three are healthy and at the top of their game. That should put the rest of the American League’s pennant contenders on notice.
Carrasco has gone start for start with Kluber all season, giving the Indians one of the best 1–2 punches in the league. Salazar, however, struggled in the first half, eventually moving to the bullpen just before the All-Star break. When he received what was always expected to be a short-term demotion, he had a 5.50 ERA and 1.59 WHIP In 52 1/3 innings. After two appearances as a reliever, Salazar hit the DL with a shoulder issue. The rest appears to have done him well.
Salazar returned to Cleveland’s rotation earlier this week, tossing seven shutout innings while allowing just one hit and striking out eight in an eventual 2–1 win for the Indians over the Blue Jays. He continued apace on Friday, surrendering two runs on three hits with eight strikeouts as the Indians beat the White Sox, 9–3.
Salazar cruised through the first six innings, keeping the White Sox off the scoreboard while allowing just three men to reach base. He walked Yoan Moncada to lead off the seventh inning, then surrendered a two-run homer to Matt Davidson, but by then the Indians had the game well in hand. Salazar, again, helped the Indians to a victory, something that all too often evaded him in the first half.
While he might be the third starter in the rotation, Salazar is just as crucial to the Indians postseason prospects as Kluber and Carrasco. If the Indians are going to get past the rest of the AL pennant contenders, most notably the Astros, they’ll have to do it on the strength of their rotation. As good as Kluber and Carrasco are, it’s hard to see the Indians making it all the way through the AL gauntlet without a strong third starter. Salazar clearly has to be that starter.
The Royals won the first game of their weekend series with the Red Sox, but the Indians still hold a two-game lead in the AL Central. Additionally, they have the third best run differential in the AL at +102, and the sixth best in the majors, trailing the Astros, Dodgers, Nationals, Diamondbacks and Yankees. No matter how tepid their first half, the Indians are rounding into form. If Salazar and Carrasco can be there alongside Kluber the next two months, they’ll stand an excellent chance to head into the postseason in better shape than they were when they were able to come within one game of winning the World Series.