Indians' rotation historically good so far in '20

July 31st, 2020

The Indians’ rotation has been a strength for the team throughout its recent run of success. So far in 2020, Cleveland’s starters are taking it to another level, powering the club’s 5-2 start. Shane Bieber provided the latest example Thursday night, when he blanked a high-powered Twins over eight innings, piling up 13 strikeouts. Now he hands the baton to Mike Clevinger, who will take the mound Friday night at Target Field for his second outing of the season.

Through seven games, Indians starters are in historic territory. But first, some basics. Here are the rotation’s numbers thus far, and where they rank in MLB.

Innings: 47 (1st)
ERA: 1.53 (2nd^)
Strikeouts: 67 (1st)
Walks: 3 (1st)
FIP: 1.86 (2nd)
^Texas’ rotation has a 0.39 ERA -- but in less than half as many innings (23)

Yes, that’s a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 67-to-3. No Indians starter has issued more than one walk in a game, making Cleveland the first team since at least 1901 to begin a season with seven straight starts of at least six innings and a maximum of one free pass. 

Meanwhile, the group boasts four double-digit strikeout performances

In each of Cleveland’s seven games, its starter has gone at least six innings while allowing no more than two runs. The only other team with such a streak -- going back to at least 1901 -- was the 1993 Braves. That team’s rotation featured three pitchers who have since gone on to the Hall of Fame: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.

But Atlanta was nowhere near as dominant, at least by some measures. The rotation’s strikeout-to-walk ratio in those seven games was only 37-to-21 -- albeit in a much lower-strikeout era.

With three more games against the Twins’ “Bomba Squad” scheduled through the weekend, the Indians’ rotation will have its hands full trying to keep this level of excellence going. But what it’s accomplished so far is already impressive, and it’s taken good work from the entire group

• Bieber, the 2019 All-Star Game MVP, has quickly developed into the team’s ace and looks as though he could become a force for quite some time. His 14 strikeouts on Opening Day against the Royals tied him for second all-time in a season opener, and are the most by a pitcher in a game this season. His followup on Thursday made him the first pitcher in MLB history to rack up at least 13 K’s in two consecutive games to begin a season. Bieber also tied the longstanding record of 27 total K’s over a pitcher’s first two games, held by Karl Spooner of the 1954 Dodgers.

• It’s not just Bieber, of course. Carlos Carrasco, the one remaining veteran in the rotation, struck out 10 Royals over six innings on Sunday, in his first start since returning from a bout with leukemia.

• With Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber both traded since last summer, Cleveland needed a new wave. The club has gotten exactly that with Aaron Civale, Zach Plesac and Adam Plutko. Civale and Plesac were rookies in 2019, Plutko in ‘18. The trio entered this season with a combined 63 MLB starts. However, in the team’s first turn through the rotation, the trio combined to allow four runs in 20 innings, striking out 24 and walking one. Civale (nine) and Plesac (11) both set career highs in K’s against the White Sox.

• Amazingly, seven games into the season, Clevinger only has Cleveland’s sixth-highest single-game strikeout total. The righty collected a relatively modest six K’s last Saturday against the Royals, while holding K.C. to two runs over seven innings.

Coming off a season in which he struck out nine or more in 10 of his 21 starts, Clevinger could have a lot more missed bats in store when he faces Minnesota. If he does, the Indians’ rotation could continue making history.