How Will the Indians Playoff Rotation Look?

Mark Warmuth

Prior to the Major League Baseball trade deadline, there seemed to be a clear pecking order to the Cleveland Indians’ starting rotation.

Shane Bieber, who is the favorite for the American League Cy Young Award in this COVID shortened season is the clear ace, and would start Game 1 of the first round of the playoffs if and when Cleveland qualifies, unless he was needed to start a game so the Tribe could qualify for the post-season.

Right now, by our calculations, the magic number is 15 to clinch a berth in the eight team field.

Before the megadeal with San Diego, it would have figured that Mike Clevinger would pitch game two.

After all, Clevinger was 26-12 over the past two full seasons, and a 2.90 ERA and 376 strikeouts in 326 innings. 

Clevinger and Plesac, It's Time to Bring Them Back to the Rotation

And in his lone playoff start, he pitched five innings in Game 3 vs. Houston in the 2018 Division Series, allowing just one run, striking out nine.

So, although we don’t want to put the cart ahead of the horse, who takes the ball in the second game, and perhaps most pivotal game of the first round best of three series, a game in which the Tribe could advance or have to win to force a deciding game.

A couple of weeks ago, Aaron Civale would have been the odds on favorite, but since his complete game win against Pittsburgh, he hasn’t pitched as well.

Prior to that start, Civale pitched 25 innings to a 3.60 ERA, allowing 25 hits. Four of the ten earned runs he allowed came in a game against the Tigers, where he gave up three runs early before settling down.

In his last three starts, he’s allowed 10 runs in 18 frames, a 5.00 ERA. His usual impeccable control has been reduced as well. Before the Pirates start, the right-handers had struck out 26 hitters, walking just three.

The last three starts have yielded 17 whiffs against six walks, and 20 hits allowed. There has been a lot of traffic on the basepaths.

Terry Francona could also pick veteran Carlos Carrasco, who has rebounded from a tough three start stretch by allowing just a single run in his last two starts, spanning 12 innings, with 13 strikeouts and five walks.

Can the Indians Move On After the Clevinger and Plesac Chicago Saga?

Carrasco has made two very good post-season starts, the first in game three of the ’17 Division Series vs. the Yankees (5-2/3 scoreless innings, seven whiffs), and the other in game two of the ’18 ALDS against Houston (5-1/3 innings, two runs) where he left the game with the lead.

However, the guy we would consider is Zach Plesac, who stuffwise might rank right behind Bieber. 

The second year right-hander, who missed time because of his ill advised night on the town in Chicago, has a 3-1 record and a 1.32 ERA.

He’s allowed just 23 hits in 34 innings, striking out 34 hitters, while walking just two. He’s faced the White Sox, one of the league’s best hitting attacks twice, pitching 14 scoreless innings, fanning 18 batters, while walking just one.

He is scheduled to start in Minneapolis this weekend, so we may have a clearer picture of what he can do after that start. If he can control the Twins bats, he could emerge as the game two starter once the post-season starts.

That’s amazing because when the season started, Plesac was the #5 guy in the rotation. But starting with his first start against the White Sox, an eight scoreless inning performance with 11 strikeouts, he’s shown a great improvement from his rookie year.

Obviously, there will be 3-4 starts remaining for the rotation depending on how Francona, Sandy Alomar Jr., and Carl Willis want to line it up for the playoffs. However, Plesac has thrown his hat into the ring for the second spot in the rotation.

Just another surprise in this crazy 2020 season.

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