By In Stuff

Kluber On Short Rest

On the surface, it makes no sense to start Corey Kluber on short rest for Game 4 of the American League Championship Series. The issues are clear:

— Kluber has never started on three-days rest and so there is no history for him or Cleveland to fall back on. Nobody, including Kluber, knows how it will play, but it’s likely that there will be some performance fall-off because of the missing day.

— Cleveland is already up 3-0, meaning they could easily sacrifice Game 4 in order to get a fully rested Kluber in Game 5. Ask yourself: How much better a chance does Cleveland have of winning a game with a rested Kluber? Ten percent better chance? Twenty? More? When you only need one more win, you want to put your ace in the best position to get that win.

— Game 4 is in Toronto. You can’t really learn anything too valuable from Kluber’s two career starts in Toronto — it’s not enough of a sample size — but somewhere in the back of your mind you do know that he got shellacked in Toronto early this season, failing to get out of the fourth. This leads to the more salient point: The Blue Jays crush the ball in Toronto. They hit 24 points higher and slugged 36 points higher in Toronto in 2016. The slugging gap was even wider in 2015. Obviously, yes, even if you held Kluber for full rest, he would pitch Game 5 in Toronto. But this only strengthens the point: If you have to put Kluber in Toronto to clinch a World Series bid, you would obviously want a locked-and-loaded Kluber.

— If Kluber loses Game 4 — and you have put him in a more likely position to lose — Terry Francona has a staggeringly slim set of options going forward. He will have to start a rookie with 11 innings in the majors, Ryan Merritt, in Game 5. Lose there, and he goes with the gutsy but not exactly intimidating Josh Tomlin in Game 6. And then it’s back to Kluber, but once again on short rest, for Game 7. None of this looks especially appealing from a Cleveland perspective.

Blue Jays fans know, even down 3-0, this series is still there to be won if they can take Kluber out in Game 4.

So, yes, all the reasons for NOT pitching Kluber tonight are easy to see.

But all of those reasons ignore one simple fact: It’s a flippin’ miracle that Cleveland has gotten this far in the first place. This is just the scant remains of what was one of the best starting rotations in all of baseball. Carlos Carrasco, for much of the season, was a leading Cy Young candidate. He last pitched on September 17. Danny Salazar was striking out 10.6 batters per nine innings with his high 90s fastball and wipeout change-up. He too was a viable Cy Young candidate in July. He last pitched on September 9.

Trevor Bauer was alternately terrific and dreadful all year, but he was the wildcard, the flaky and bold who might just show up and strike out 13 like he did against Toronto back in August. He blew up his pinkie finger playing around with a drone. He called it a non-issue in a wide-ranging interview on Sunday where he also called “Phantom Menace” his favorite Star Wars movie because Darth Maul is “one of the coolest villains.”*

*Tom Tango posits that this is both understandable and even admirable because Bauer was 8 years old when “Phantom Menace” came out and, as I have written many times, baseball and other stuff is always best when you are 8 years old. I see and even enjoy the logic of that but don’t accept it — “Phantom Menace” was an abomination upon the earth and while, yes, at the time I thought the 1975 Cleveland Indians were the best team ever, growing up has disabused me of that absurd notion.

But of course the drone injury was a major factor, and Bauer couldn’t even make it through the first inning in Game 3. He’s certainly done as a starting pitcher for this series.

There you go: Three-fifths of the rotation, gone. This is why, if this series goes five games, Francona will have no choice but to make some sort of Ryan Merritt/Mike Clevinger mix-tape and probably burn up the bullpen again.

So here’s Sophie’s Choice for Francona:

Do you do the Merritt/Clevinger thing in Game 4 so that you can have a rested Kluber in Game 5?

Do you throw Kluber out there in Game 4, gambling that he will be a better version of himself, and try to end the series now, understanding the consequences if you don’t

And when you put it that way, frankly, I don’t think it is a choice.

I think, as long as Kluber wants to pitch on short rest (and he does), you HAVE to do exactly what Francona is doing and pitch him in Game 4, even with all the negatives that come with it.

Here’s why:

First, for the Merritt/Clevinger thing to work, it’s likely that Cleveland’s sensational bullpen will need to be rested. And it isn’t. The bullpen was a used-up force in Game 3, covering eight-plus innings. Cleveland’s six best relievers all pitched, and they were stretched out. Brian Shaw, who was mostly a one-inning pitcher this year, went one and two-thirds. Cody Allen, Cleveland’s closer, came in the seventh inning for the first time all year and threw 27 high-pressure pitches. Then Lord Voldemort came in to close things out, doing his usual strikeout thing.

You don’t want to go into a game the very next day more-or-less knowing that you will need all those guys again, and might need them for multiple innings. Yes, of course, it could work out that way even with Kluber on the mound, but you have to take a shot. Francona knows that if he is not careful, he could mess up his bullpen for the rest of the series.

Second, pitching Kluber fits the philosophy that Francona has preached all postseason: Win today, worry about tomorrow then. For such a beat-up Cleveland team (and let’s not forget they are also without Michael Brantley, their best hitter), that theme has been energizing. They feed off Miller, who will come in at any time in any situation to save the day. They feed off Francisco Lindor, who helps the team in countless ways. They feed off Francona.

Kluber wants to sacrifice for this team too. It’s part of the spirit Francona has helped build. You’ve gone this far with it, you have to keep going.

Third, and perhaps most important: Francona literally does not have a Game 7 starter if he doesn’t do this. Yes, of course, this cuts against the “worry about tomorrow then” concept, but I mean, you need SOMEBODY to start Game 7. Who? If you start Merritt in Game 4, are you going to bring an inexperienced rookie back on three days rest? No. Clevinger? You’re really going to start a 25-year-old kid with a 5.93 ERA in 10 career starts in Game 7 at home for a chance to go to the World Series?

No, this is it. Cleveland has come absurdly far when you consider the journey. They’ve bluffed their way to the brink of the World Series with a pair of twos and one heck of a poker face. They’re still holding a pair of twos, but it’s too late to back out now. It’s the ultimate cliché but also the first rule of poker: You play the cards you are dealt.




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15 Responses to Kluber On Short Rest

  1. Rod Payne says:

    I saw the original Star Wars in a theatre when I was 8. Nothing has happened since to change how that movie made me feel.

  2. invitro says:

    Cleveland has allowed 10 runs in their 6 postseason games. For the arithmetically-challenged, that’s a 1.67 RA. Crazy stuff. I wonder how many other teams have allowed as few runs in their first 6 games of a postseason.

    • nightfly says:

      In modern times, the 1983 Baltimore Orioles held the White Sox to 3 runs in four ALCS games, and then held the Phils to 3 in the opening two games of the Series, so that’s six in six games (the record as far as I can tell).

      • DB says:

        I was going to say something without looking at the facts. That the Indians were/are going against probably the best offensive team in baseball this year (Red Sox, 1st in runs and OPS) and a top 10 team in Toronto. Then I looked up Chicago and Philadelphia in 83. The White Sox scored 800 runs (top in the AL) while the Phillies scored almost 700 (and were third in the NL). Scoring was down then but not enough. Extra points to the Indians with their decimated rotation but the Orioles were good.

      • invitro says:

        Wow. Crazier stuff. Thanks for the info!

  3. KHAZAD says:

    I totally get pitching Kluber, and I think I would do the same thing. I admire the manager for managing each game as if it was the last, and not going with the “safe” choice. The managers who haven’t managed this way in the playoffs are watching the game on TV or staring at elimination. This also opens up Kluber for a possible game 7 if the series goes down the tubes.

    I have come to admire this Cleveland team as well. A team whose best asset was that starting rotation did not even flinch when they lost 2 of their best 3, and then lost Bauer to the freak injury. They barely noticed being without their (projected to be) best outfielder for virtually their entire season. There are teams that didn’t make the playoffs who have had less injuries than Cleveland using those injuries as an excuse for missing the playoffs. This team makes no excuses, they just come out and beat you.

    If they close out this series, whether they end up playing the fan favorite Cubs or the $250 million Dodgers, all the talk will be about how the starting pitching is now a complete mismatch, and on paper, they will be right. But anyone who tries to count this resilient team out or take them lightly does so at their own peril.

  4. Unvenfurth says:

    Gene Mauch

  5. MikeN says:

    Manager was heavily attacked for keeping Pedro out of Game 4 with team down 2-1 in a best of 5.
    Here you have the chance of getting Kluber twice, but I think you have to hold him out and take your best chance. How much worse will he be on 3 days rest? At the time, Pedro hadn’t broken down yet, so you could say his start would be a guaranteed win.

  6. Dave says:

    Today’s the real test. Klubs did just fine yesterday, and (for me anyways) the confidence factor for the potential 2 games in Cleveland is good.

    Today is yet another bullpen game (our sixth this season) in one of the loudest ballparks around with against an offense that is starting to wake up.

    All season this team not just talked the talk of playing things one game at a time, they walked it too. Maybe – I don’t know, I’ve never come close to playing any sport at this level – maybe it was the worst thing to win all 6 playoff games (and the 3 before that to win home field advantage). Maybe they are facing their first “October” challenge.

    How they respond today, win or lose, could well play out beyond. Go Tribe!

  7. Pat says:

    Ask yourself: How much better a chance does Cleveland have of winning a game with a rested Kluber? Ten percent better chance? Twenty? More?

    Fifty percent. Maybe more. Teams who start a starter on short rest win about 33% of the time—one time out of three. League average is obviously 50%, or one in two. Except for ace starters, it’s probably higher than that—maybe 60% of the time a guy like Kluber gets his team the win, even against playoff-caliber teams?

    Starting your ace on short rest is ALWAYS a dumb idea. Even when it works, it’s a dumb idea that almost certainly put your team in a worse position to win than they would have been otherwise.

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