We’re just a couple weeks from the MLB postseason, and one of the biggest issues the Cleveland Indians ran into last year is looking much better this time around. Where the 2016 playoffs featured a Tribe rotation in utter disarray, it’s currently in much better shape (knocks on wood, prays to baseball gods).
The first three spots look set in stone with Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and (yes, I’m aware how stunning this is) Trevor Bauer. However, the No. 4 spot appears to be up for grabs.
It shouldn’t be, though. If you ask me, Mike Clevinger should already be penciled in as Cleveland’s fourth starter when the postseason arrives.
When it comes to this area of the rotation, the Indians technically have a couple options. Outside of Clevinger, Cleveland could consider veteran Josh Tomlin. He was one of the unsung heroes for the team last postseason, providing three quality starts and helping the team overcome an injury ravaged rotation.
There’s also Danny Salazar. The Dominican hurler has shown flashes of brilliance this season, though he’s struggled at maintaining it. He’ll be starting tomorrow in the series finale against the Los Angeles Angels, which will likely be seen as an audition for the playoffs.
I’d certainly understand why the Tribe might choose either pitcher over Clevinger. Tomlin is one of the most respected players in the clubhouse, while Salazar is near-impossible to hit when he’s on his game.
That said, I personally think this isn’t even up for debate. To tab either of them over Clevinger would be blatantly ignoring the incredible season he’s put forth for Cleveland.
Despite a couple shaky starts in late July, Clevinger has been remarkably consistent on the mound since June 17. Of his last nine starts, only twice has he allowed more than two earned runs. This time-span also includes four shutout appearances. Clevinger has also earned the decision in each of his last five starts, all victories.
It’s important to note all of this due to the fact what he’s been able to provide – a very steady arm – is something neither Tomlin nor Salazar have done this season.
This certainly isn’t a knock on either pitcher. It’s simply adding more reasoning for why Clevinger has earned his place in the postseason rotation.
To his credit, Tomlin has settled down on the mound compared to how he looked earlier in the year. He’s no longer turning games into home run derbies for the opposing offenses. Still, with limitations on what he can provide, you always feel as though he’s a couple meatball pitches away from ceding control of the contest.
On the other hand, Salazar’s stuff was electric upon his late July return from the DL. He put forth five straight quality starts, leading many to think he had figured out his trademark inconsistency. However, two sloppy outings later, he was relegated to the bullpen. His start tomorrow is likely his last shot to prove his worth as a starter this year.
Clevinger, meanwhile, has only rarely run into any sort of funk. Give or take a start or two here and there, he’s been one of the most reliable arms in the rotation this season. On top of this, any concerns about whether or not he could handle playoff pressure can be addressed in two ways.
For one, as the team’s fourth starter, he might not even get his first start until the ALCS should Cleveland make it that far. Secondly, he made four relief appearances last postseason. Though all but one was mop-up duty, getting the ball in the playoffs – three times during the World Series – is huge experience for him.
At the end of the day, there are just more reasons to give Clevinger a rotation spot than not. He’s proven to be consistent, is more reliable than Salazar and has more pitches to work with than Tomlin does.
As you can see, the final spot in the postseason rotation should be Clevinger’s to lose.