For many, the Cleveland Indians were as much of a lock to head back to the postseason as anyone this year, meaning a third consecutive appearance in October baseball. The latter is nothing more than a formality at this point, with the Tribe leading the American League Central by fifteen games. However, they did have their fair share of turbulence throughout 2018, mostly taking place in the later innings. So what carried them?

The Indians will not win without dominant starting pitching. Even though they went to the World Series in 2016, had they run the five starters out they were at the end of everything (after all the injuries) it might have been a struggle to even make it to the postseason. The Tribe won in October with elite bullpen performance. That is a luxury to have, however, they can be overrated, which you can see by this campaign’s troubles.

If you want to start the conversation about that, all anyone has to do is look at Andrew Miller’s innings total, which currently sits at 26.2. He has more blown saves than actual saves (three to one), not to mention the fact that his ERA peaked close to 4.50 (4.40 to be exact). Another blow to Cleveland’s late innings was the departure of Bryan Shaw, who signed with the Rockies last offseason. For a good portion of 2018, it was “get the ball to Cody Allen” with the lead any way you can.

The most simple path to that plan? Starting pitching, what else. When Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, and others are pitching around 66% of the game or more, it is easy to see why six outs might not be hard to find here and there when your closer is competent. Allen’s save percentage might not be where he would like (84.4%), it is more than likely Allen will shut the door on most occasions.

Cleveland is the epitome of starting pitching wins. They have Kluber leading the staff with an 18-7 record and a 2.91 ERA, and if you want to discuss Magnum Start Value (MSV), his Yearly Magnum Percentage (YMP) is currently 43.3%. One concern, however, is Trevor Bauer, especially when you look at the fact that he a stress fracture in his right fibula. Reports have stated Bauer may return later this month, but those kinds of media accounts can be overly optimistic.

And if you want to know why Bauer means so much to the Tribe, all you have to do is look at his 2.22 ERA and 12-6 record. That is good enough to be an ace on most clubs, and if Cleveland has him pitching second behind Kluber, they would have the firepower in their rotation to match up with the Astros, who they will most likely meet in the ALDS. And when you are talking about a hurler whose YMP is 36%, the chances that Bauer throws a Magnum Start is 16.9% less than Kluber, which isn’t bad when you think about how good Kluber is.

In the case that Bauer cannot go in October, it is very likely that Carlos Carrasco would get the game two start, and while Carrasco is very good himself, he is still a bit of a drop-off from Bauer. If you look at Carrasco’s MSV scores, his YMP is 39.3% (better than Bauer’s), however, when you look at the number of mediocre outings they are high. He has eight starts where he has allowed four earned runs or more (28.6%), and when you compare Carrasco’s elite outings against his less than stellar ones it is only a 1.38/1 ratio.

Moving to game three (or four), the Tribe would most likely send Mike Clevenger to the hill, who is 11-8 with a 3.16 ERA this season. His MSV totals are not quite as good as the others, and that is evident by Clevenger’s YMP is only 20.7%. He is still throwing plenty of solid outings, which can be seen by his Yearly Quality Percentage (YQP) of 65.5%. There is no question any of these hurlers could perform well in the postseason, however losing one of them could have a trickle-down effect on the staff. And worse than some may realize at that.

Before we wrap up, there is no doubt whatsoever that Cleveland has the offense and starting pitching to go toe-to-toe with the Astros. However, if Trevor Bauer doesn’t return they will be short-handed and when you look at the way Houston can run guys such as Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and others, it is obvious no one wants to lose a key member of their rotation prior to facing them in a five-game series. The question for the Indians now is, will they be down a man come the ALDS.

All in all, the Indians have the horses to win it all in 2018. Offensively they are very good as well, as they have outscored Houston 733 to 726 this season (3rdand 4thin the American League respectively). The only way they would be the favorite in the aforementioned series would be if they face Oakland, due to the fact that the A’s have lost starting pitcher Sean Manaea for the year with a shoulder injury. While the dust has yet to settle in terms of the playoff matchups, one thing is certain; expect a world-class battle for the American League pennant. One that could go down in history as among the best ever.

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