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Win-fall: Indians' rotation clicking for success

Starters are 8-1 with a 2.37 ERA, 114 strikeouts in August
MLB.com @MLBastian

MINNEAPOLIS -- There is a competition brewing among the Indians' rotation members. Paced by ace Corey Kluber, who is in the midst of a stellar season that should have him firmly in the mix for some season-end hardware, the starters are taking the mound each night trying to one-up each other.

"You don't want to be the guy that screws it up," Danny Salazar said with a laugh.

MINNEAPOLIS -- There is a competition brewing among the Indians' rotation members. Paced by ace Corey Kluber, who is in the midst of a stellar season that should have him firmly in the mix for some season-end hardware, the starters are taking the mound each night trying to one-up each other.

"You don't want to be the guy that screws it up," Danny Salazar said with a laugh.

The way things have been going lately, the rain storm that washed out Wednesday night's game against the Twins is about the only thing that has been effective in cooling off the Tribe's rotation. Due to the postponement, the teams will play a split doubleheader on Thursday with games at 1:10 p.m. ET and 7:10 p.m. at Target Field.

Carlos Carrasco will take the ball for the Indians in Game 1 and lefty Ryan Merritt will be promoted from Triple-A Columbus to start Game 2 as the Tribe's 26th man. That means Mike Clevinger will be available out of the bullpen on Thursday, while staying on schedule to start again on Monday. The rotation order for the upcoming series in Kansas City is unaffected: Kluber (Friday), Trevor Bauer (Saturday) and Salazar (Sunday).

The Indians' rotation headed into Wednesday on an incredible run in August, going 8-1 with a 2.37 ERA and 114 strikeouts against 22 walks in 87 1/3 innings. The staff as a whole has registered 10 or more strikeouts in 12 straight games, establishing a Major League record. No other team on record has enjoyed a streak of that kind for more than nine games.

"Our guys were going to pitch good no matter what," pitching coach Mickey Callaway said, "because they're really good with really good stuff and they work hard, and I think that's the most important thing."

Entering Wednesday, the Indians' rotation led the American League in ERA (3.98), WAR (15.1, per Fangraphs), Fielding Independent Pitching (3.56), strikeouts per nine innings (10.3), strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.9), strikeout percentage (27.9), strikeout-minus-walk percentage (20.7), WHIP (1.20), opponents' average (.240) and, for the more traditional crowd, wins (51).

That the starting staff is the best in the AL is not really much of a surprise, given the preseason expectations for the talented staff. To provide some context, though, the Tribe's rotation has endured injuries to Kluber, Salazar and Josh Tomlin at various points, and ranked last in the AL in ERA (4.86) as recently as June 9. Since that date, the Indians have led the AL in ERA (3.17) and opponents' OPS (.671).

Video: CLE@MIN: Salazar strikes out 10 over seven innings

"I never doubted what we could do out there," said Salazar, who has a 1.39 ERA in five starts since coming off the disabled list on July 22. "I know we're going to go through hard times out there on the mound, but I think with work we can get over that. It was rough. But what we're doing right now, everybody is feeling healthy and everybody is doing their job."

What has changed over the past two months?

Callaway noted the starting pitchers have met as a group multiple times to discuss goals for the entire group. The first meeting stressed the importance of stranding runners in scoring position. The next emphasized throwing more breaking balls (according to Statcast™, Cleveland's staff has thrown 18.1 percent curves since June 10, compared to 14.7 percent before that date).

There was a third meeting -- one that Callaway felt really made an impact -- but he declined to reveal the details of that discussion.

"I do think there's something impactful to having guys as a unit focused on the same things," Callaway said. "You're all focused as a group on team things, not individual. It's not, 'Get me out of a slump.' It's, 'Get us out of a slump.'"

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians