With the beginning of the 2014 season finally upon the Cleveland Indians, the long wait since last season’s loss in the Wild Card round of the playoffs is finally over for Tribe fans. With optimism and excitement surrounding Terry Francona’s team, the question on everyone’s mind is whether or not the young pitching staff can overcome the major losses of Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir from the rotation.
It seems funny that we are talking about the losses of Jimenez—who was once labeled a bust after his mid-season acquisition a couple years ago—and Kazmir as being major deterrents from this team making the playoffs again, as one year ago today we were all wondering just what we would get out of them in 2013. Instead, both became major contributors to the team last season and two of the biggest keys down the stretch in a 92-70 season.
Replacing Jimenez is going to be a task nearly impossible to complete in 2014 for the Indians. Outside of finishing with a 13-9 record with a 3.30 ERA, the current Baltimore pitcher ate up 182.2 innings. He struck out 194 batters on the season while walking just 80, and finished with a WHIP of 1.33. But the most important statistic of all was his dominance down the stretch, where he went 4-0 in September with a 1.09 ERA. The 41.1 innings he logged over his six starts in September were dazzling to say the least, as he gave up just six runs with five of them being earned.
The task of replacing Kazmir may seem easier because of his 10-9 record, 4.04 ERA and 1.32 WHIP, but the left-handed pitcher was very important down the stretch as well. Kazmir finished September with a 3-2 record and 2.57 ERA in five starts, which he parlayed into a two-year deal with the Oakland Athletics.
So who will the Indians look to replace their contributions last season?
Though he is slated as the No. 4 starter, young Danny Salazar has the expectations of the world levied on his 24-year old shoulders. Owner of a fastball that can hit triple digits, Salazar pitched in 10 games during the regular season and compiled a 2-3 record with an ERA of 3.12. He also started the team’s playoff game, going four innings and giving up three runs on four hits while striking out four. He has the stuff to be the next No. 1 starter of this organization, but he will have to prove in 2014 that he can adjust to a league that no longer knows he is a secret.
After Salazar, Corey Kluber has to be the guy that remains steady for the Indians in 2014. After finishing 2013 with an 11-5 record with a 3.85 ERA, Kluber has proven he can be a Top 3 starter for the Indians. The 27-year old has perhaps the most consistent stuff on the team, as he logged 136 strikeouts against just 33 walks a year ago. He is a tough, gritty competitor (some have made fun of his emotionless facial expressions) who very rarely delivers a dud on the mound for his team. Look for Kluber to come up big for the Indians in 2014 if they hope to return to the playoffs.
Zach McAllister is the guy who seemingly needs to fill the “Kazmir” role in the rotation. Last year he posted a 9-9 record with a 3.75 ERA, appearing and starting in 24 games last season. At just 26-years old, McAllister has started 50 games over the last two seasons for the Indians and seems to be getting better with each year. If he can post a 13-9 record this season, the Indians could find themselves in a very good spot this season.
The biggest surprise of the spring was Carlos Carrasco landing the No. 5 spot in the starting rotation, as nobody has a clue what to expect from the 27-year old who edged out Josh Tomlin. Seemingly on a short leash, many expect Carrasco to have four starts to really prove he belongs in the rotation while the team watches Tomlin to make sure he has returned to form after his injury.
All of the youngsters have to pick up the slack, but nothing matters unless Justin Masterson continues his All-Star pace and place as the ace of the staff. After finishing the season 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA, Masterson’s contract discussions with the Indians have been the focal point of the offseason. That is the type of thing that can really hurt a player coming into the season, though his dominance in spring training says otherwise. Masterson will have to lead the way and pace this rotation with All-Star numbers yet again if the Indians hope to challenge the Tigers for the AL Central crowd.
Overall, the task seems difficult to replace the production of Jimenez and Kazmir from a year ago, but it isn’t impossible. Salazar and Carrasco are the biggest “unknowns” in terms of experience, but the expectations for Salazar based on his late-season production and potential shown could make up for the loss of Jimenez. If the team can get anything out of Carrasco/whoever ends up being the No. 5 starter, the Tribe could once again have their fans on a magical ride in the 2014 season.