The Year(s) of Cleveland

This is Cleveland’s year, even if it isn’t.

Cleveland was always going to live or die by its pitching. In June, the team lived like kings. Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar ate hapless batters and crapped shutouts. Trevor Bauer, a strikeout specialist with a Rick Vaughn-like wild streak, was finally limiting his walks. Even 5th starter Josh Tomlin strung together a chain of quality starts.

At one point, the starting pitchers were talking of anything less than 7 scoreless frames as a bit of a failure.

Perhaps it’s the ups and downs of 162 games. Perhaps it’s the absence of injured catcher Yan Gomes. Perhaps the Detroit Tigers have hired a witch doctor to hex Cleveland’s starters. The past few weeks have been rough on Cleveland pitching. Carrasco could only manage 3 innings against the middling White Sox. Danny Salazar is out 4-6 weeks with muscle inflammation. Trevor Bauer has suddenly lost his strikeout mojo. And Josh Tomlin is showing his stripes as a 5th starter.

Only Kluber has remained constant in Cleveland’s starting five. Which, considering he is not a human, but rather an advanced, baseball-pitching cyborg sent from the future, makes sense.

With All-Star Michael Brantley injured until next spring and catcher Jon Lucroy playing for Texas instead of in the 216, Cleveland is going to have to ride its pitching as far as it can go. While that looks bleak for the moment, there’s reason for optimism.

First, and maybe you didn’t know this, LeBron broke the curse.

Second, and more importantly, Cleveland has a trump card in pitching coach Mickey Callaway. Mick is a wizard with mechanics. He owns a super keen sonar for finding pitchers’ lost “stuff.” Remember, the Klubot, a Cy Young winner and contender again this year, was a traded to Cleveland for very little. Salazar was once demoted to bullpen duty. Like Vanilla Ice once said, “if there’s [an arm slot] problem, yo, [Mickey Callaway] will solve it. Now check out the hook while [Terry Francona] revolves it.”

Another bright spot is the impending return of Catcher Yan Gomes. While the 2016 campaign hasn’t been an offensive explosion for the Brazilian backstop, Gomes knows how to manage his pitchers. You’ll recall one of the reasons Lucroy reportedly passed on Cleveland’s trade offer is that Manager Terry Francona would give no assurance that Lucroy would start behind the dish upon Gomes’ return. Why would Francona (allegedly) make such an insane pronouncement to one of the best catchers in baseball? Because Yan is that good with his pitchers. Cleveland’s pitching turbulence started bumping after Gomes went down.

Even if Cleveland’s pitching takes a September hiatus, there’s still reason for hope. The remaining three weeks of Cleveland’s schedule is entirely against AL Central teams. Outside of some struggles against Minnesota (Minnesota? Really?), Cleveland has claimed complete ownership of the AL Central. They’re a combined 28-9 against the ChiSox, Tigers and Royals. Against the Tigers, who are currently in second 5.5 games back, Cleveland is an even better 11-1. The math seems to work out for, at least, an AL Central banner in Cleveland.

Once in the playoffs, though, well, that all depends on the pitching.

Even should Cleveland go full Cleveland and completely flame out, there’s STILL reason for hope. Usually, the Cleveland mantra, “There’s always next year,” is just the bullshit Clevelanders weep into the soapy suds of an empty pint glass. This time, though, it’s true. The 2017 Cleveland baseball team should be better than the 2016 version. All five starting pitchers, closer Cody Allen and relieving ace Andrew Miller are under team control through 2018. Mike Brantley should return healthy. Even more, star prospect outfielder Bradley Zimmer (who many rank higher than Clint Fraizer, the centerpiece of the Miller trade) should be big-league ready sometime in 2017.

Cleveland is not the Florida Marlins; they’re not built to explode and then fizzle like a firework. With a core of young talent and a full roster of capable pitchers, Cleveland should contend for at least the next few years. Even if it’s not this year for Moses Cleveland’s Baseball team, it should be a wild ride to 2020.

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