The Indians are set to return to the play-offs for the first time since 2007 (as long as they win the last two games) and are doing things a little differently. Almost every previous play-off appearance has been earned through a tremendous offense or a well rounded team. This will be the first time in a long time that an Indians team has advanced to the post season on the strength of their starting staff, rather than their bats, which have been fairly devoid of power during the regular season.
Here is a quick view of the Indians' three man play-off rotations for every post season in team history. The statistics are from the regular season to show what kind of pitching talent the Indians were bringing into the play-offs.
|Coveleski, Mails & Bagby||1920||62||2.62||718.0||209|
|Lemon, Feller & Bearden||1948||59||2.97||803.2||265|
|Lemon, Wynn & Garcia||1954||65||2.70||787.2||236|
|Nagy, Hershiser & Martinez||1995||44||3.82||532.1||226|
|Nagy, Hershiser & McDowell||1996||45||4.21||620.0||290|
|Nagy, Hershiser & Wright||1997||37||4.38||512.2||249|
|Nagy, Wright & Colon||1998||41||4.55||607.0||307|
|Nagy, Colon & Burba||1999||50||4.38||627.0||305|
|Colon, Sabathia & Finley||2001||39||4.52||516.1||259|
|Sabathia, Carmona & Westbrook||2007||44||3.43||608.0||232|
|Jimenez, Masterson & Kluber||2013||36||3.49||508.1||197|
Over the total history of the Cleveland Indians, the team has been very pitching heavy. Some of the greatest pitchers of all time pitched for the Tribe, including Hall of Famers Stan Coveleski, Bob Feller and Early Wynn who all made it to the World Series. Starting in the mid-1970's through the 1980's, the look of the franchise shifted from top pitchers like Gaylord Perry and Sam McDowell to big sluggers like Andre Thornton and Joe Carter. In the 1990's this format was found to be at least partially successful and is how the Indians made it to the post-season five times in six years with an ERA of more than four.
All of baseball has been transitioning since the late 1990's to a more pitcher friendly league and the Indians weren't immune. The 2007 run included possibly the greatest three man staff in Indians history, given the change in baseball over those years. That season had two potential (and one actual) Cy Young Award winners, who each won 19 games during the regular season. In this season, wins have been hard to come by for the Cleveland staff, with Justin Masterson leading the way with just 14. This has been largely due to the amount late inning wins and general lack off offense early in games.
That being said, this year's rotation may be even better than the 2007 staff. The 100 less innings pitched are largely due to the fact that both Corey Kluber and Masterson have missed a month with injury. While these may not be the three starters the Indians would use, they have been the best this year. If the Indians win the Wild Card game, they couldn't go wrong using any of their six most used starters this year. Since the All-Star break, the pitching staff as a whole is second in the AL with an ERA of 3.10 and the starting staff as a whole holds a 3.92 ERA on the season. Of course that number includes starts by players like Brett Myers and Carlos Carrasco, who won't be anywhere near the play-offs.
Ubaldo Jimenez deserves the most credit for the Indians rotational success of late, keeping a 1.04 ERA (3-0) through five games in September. Masterson had this type of success early on in the season, but it was never expected out of Jimenez. It is incredibly important to get hot at the right time and Jimenez could not be any hotter. If he could somehow lead the Indians to the World Series, his last two years will be completely forgotten.
Things are looking very positive on this front for the Indians. In general, the ability of the top three starters has correlated well into deep runs into the post season (1920, 1948, 1954, 1995 and 2007). Of course this year is a little different as the Indians will have to win the first game against the Rays to have any chance to even show off the starting staff. The offense will also have to do something, as even the best pitcher in the game can't win nothing to nothing. It's time to get your unobtainable hopes up, Cleveland. The fall won't hurt nearly as much if you don't.