Indians pose threatening combination of pitching and hitting as they approach the postseason



Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Adam Plutko delivers in the first inning in a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Jack O'Rourke, The Carroll News

As a wise man once said, “you know bro, home run pitch.” José Ramírez’s 10th inning home run against the White Sox sent the Indians to the playoffs in walk-off fashion. Tuesday night’s win was the official clinching win for the Indians, as the Seattle Mariners are now mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.

For the fourth time in five seasons, the Cleveland Indians find themselves heading to the playoffs. After last season’s 93 wins, leaving the Tribe three games short of qualifying for the playoffs, the Indians are guaranteed a playoff berth this year. 

A historically great pitching staff will carry the Indians to the playoffs this season. Shane Beiber, a favorite for the American League Cy Young Award and also an MVP candidate, has been lights out this season after winning the All-Star Game MVP last season. Beiber boasts an 8-1 record and holds an earned run average below two runs. The ace of the staff was also the first pitcher in the MLB to reach 100 strikeouts this season. If the Indians make a deep playoff run, Beiber’s pitching will likely be a major factor.

While Beiber has showcased numbers that would enter record-breaking contention in a full 162-game season, the rest of the Indians’ pitching staff has been solid. 

In just seven starts, Zack Plesac has put down 50 batters via the strikeout and has an ERA sitting at an impressive 1.85. Twenty-two-year-old rookie Triston McKenzie, or “Dr. Sticks,” has stunned eyes all around the MLB with his performance through six starts. Veteran Carlos Carrasco has had a bit of a down year in terms of record, but part of that is due to his lack of run support. Carrasco’s record is 3-4, but his 2.90 ERA is a very good sign should the Indians’ bats come alive.

Aaron Civale has also provided solid starts for the Indians and is one of the better AL pitchers when it comes to mixing his off-speed stuff. If young pitchers like Plesac and McKenzie can continue their success and more seasoned pitchers like Carrasco and Civale continue to pitch well, the Tribe may have the best starting pitching in the postseason. 

In an interview with The Carroll News on Friday, Cleveland Indians’ top minor league prospect Nolan Jones praised the Indians’ pitching staff. 

“This pitching staff is elite all the way from top to bottom,” said Jones. “No matter who takes the mound, you know they’re going to go out there and battle and give the Indians a chance to win. It’s fun to watch.”

Nolan Jones at the 2019 All-Star Futures Game at Progressive Field in Cleveland (Wikimedia Commons)

The Indians’ bullpen has had a fruitful campaign to date. Former All-Star closer Brad Hand has found some sort of a second wind in his Indians tenure by providing 13 saves and posting a solid ERA. Hand has returned to his all-star caliber pitching of last season’s first half. 

Rookie James Karinchak has struck out 46 hitters and developed into a dark horse candidate for Rookie of the Year. Karinchak is the right-handed setup man that the Indians have been lacking since the departure of Bryan Shaw. 

Oliver Perez has been solid, just as he has been in his last two seasons with the Indians. Adam Plutko has been an unsung hero of the staff, as he has started a few games but also found a niche keeping games at a standstill from the bullpen. Phil Maton and Cam Hill have both eaten innings while keeping scores right where they are. 

The newly acquired Cal Quantrill has supplemented the bullpen since being brought over as a mercenary from the Padres. If the big dogs at the top of the bullpen like Hand, Karinchak, Perez and Nick Wittgren pitch as well as they have this season, the transition from starter to back-end will be one of the better in baseball. The likes of Plutko, Maton, Hill and Quantrill will all be key components, whether they are tasked to hold the lead or keep the opposition’s score where it stands. 

From an offensive standpoint, it has not been the Indians’ best season and that will need to change if the Indians hope to make a deep playoff run. 

Cleveland Indians third baseman Jose Ramirez celebrates his two-run home run with Carlos Santana (41) in the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers in Detroit, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) (Paul Sancya)

The good news is that the Indians have the big guns to make it happen. José Ramírez has led the Indians’ bats this season, leading the team in home runs and RBIs. After a rough first half of the 2019 campaign, Ramirez has returned to his level as a top-tier third baseman. Having seized four “home run pitches” and knocking in 10 runners, Ramírez has lifted himself into the MVP conversation. 

Franmil Reyes has also shone at the plate as the second year leads the team in batting average and is second behind Ramirez in homers and RBIs. Reyes was the key piece in the return from the Reds for Trevor Bauer. If Reyes can string together a few solid seasons at DH, he will win the Indians the trade. Cesar Hernandez has filled the leadoff role to perfection and has played exceptionally well at second base. 

Francisco Lindor has had a solid season but has really come on as of late. Lindor, in what may be his last season as a member of The Tribe, is tied for second on the team in home runs and leads the team in hits. Lindor’s problem is that he has ground into an inordinate amount of double plays. Despite this, Lindor cannot be taken lightly. He is the heart and soul of the Indians and widely considered the best shortstop in baseball. 

Cleveland Indians’ Francisco Lindor runs the bases after hitting a two-run home run during the first inning of a baseball game against the Kansas City Royals Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) (Charlie Riedel)

Carlos Santana has not hit the ball as well as he has in years past, but he leads the team in walks by double digits and currently leads the major leagues in that category as well. Santana’s ability to draw walks is so special that despite hitting below the Mendoza line, ( named after Luis Mendoza, a common phrase for hitters that are hitting below the .200 benchmark, which is considered to be a poor performance). he is still fourth on the team in on base percentage. 

DeLino DeShields Jr. and Tyler Naquin have been the only consistent hitters in the outfield, as the Indians have been making constant changes to an outfield that is struggling to hit. 

Roberto Perez has continued his stellar defense behind the plate but has struggled to hit. Mike Freeman has given consistent production off the bench from his utility role and has made a home for himself in Cleveland after a strong 2019 season. 

Oscar Mercado, a rookie sensation last season, has been off to a slow start, and it will be key to get his bat going in 2021. Minor league prospects such as Daniel “The Jet” Johnson and Cleveland native Mitch Longo will most likely be given shots in the coming years. 

Cleveland Indians’ Cesar Hernandez, center, is mobbed by teammates after hitting an RBI-single in the ninth inning in a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak) (Tony Dejak)

While the postseason picture is not yet set, the Indians are a lock. The MLB will be doing a “bubble” for the playoffs and will follow strict guidelines for COVID-19. While the prospects of players’ family members joining the bubble is plausible, it may not happen or may not be doable for every family. 

On Saturday, Sept. 19, The Carroll News spoke to Allison Plutko, wife of pitcher Adam Plutko. 

“Obviously, no matter what kind of season it is, there’s excitement for the playoffs,” said Plutko. “Some guys and their families never get to experience the playoffs in their entire careers, and most of all you just want them to win the World Series. It is different with all of the rules and regulations with families being brought in (to the bubble), which I understand and agree with.

“It is tough, with a two-year-old, to keep him completely quarantined in a hotel room for seven days. Luckily, if we do make the playoffs, we will have time to re-evaluate. It is strange because for the first time in eight seasons I’ve left my husband without knowing when he will return.

“Everyone is making sacrifices right now at every sport and every level,” she continued. “Some people are playing ball overseas and haven’t seen their families in months. Everyone just hopes the sacrifices are worth it for the common goal of a World Series.” 

The Tribe will most likely find themselves in a best-of-three series against a division winner. A short-lengthened series, such as this year’s first-round, will benefit the Indians. Beiber will get the nod in Game One, and he is the best pitcher in MLB this season. If Beiber can do what he has done all season long, the Tribe will have a chance to pull off an upset if one of the other four talented pitchers can lead the team to victory. If Jobu wakes the Indians’ bats, this team turns into a legit threat to break the Indians’ World Series drought dating back to their 1948 World Series win.