Saturday, April 2, 2011

Tribe starters struggles will likely be the norm in 2011

Fausto Carmona and Carlos Carrasco have done a nice job giving the spars crowds at Progressive Field their best impression of a pinball machine, getting lit up to the tune of 17 runs in 9 2/3 innings. While it's certainly disconcerting to see the #1 and #2 Tribe starters getting beat like a drum, it definitely shouldn't come as a surprise.

Carmona is undoubtedly the ace of this staff. Unfortunately, that's based more on the contraction of every other quality member of the Tribe's starting staff over the past three years then Carmona's pitching dominance. Everybody remembers Carmona's 2007 season, when the starter burst on the scene with a 19-8 record, a 3.06 record, and a sinker and slider so wicked, he looked like an ace for years to come. Since then, Carmona's gone 26-34, with an ERA north of 5.00. Yes, Carmona rebounded last year with a 13-14 record, and a 3.77 ERA, but to say he's a true ace would be a stretch for any rotation...well...any rotation not belonging to the Indians.

Now, Carmona is clearly the best Tribe starter. That's not necessarily a pat on the back.

Carrasco used to be the gem of the Phillies promising minor league system. The Indians received Carrasco when they traded Cliff Lee to the Phillies in 2009. Carrasco was still highly regarded, but 19-year-old Jason Knapp and his cannon but oft-injured left arm was considered a bigger get. While Carrasco did pitch well in his last few starts of 2010, his overall numbers in the majors are far from stellar. In his 12 major league starts, he is 2-6 overall, with a 5.51 ERA. While we don't know what he'll turn into down the line, I think it's safe to say that his ceiling this year isn't up to a #2 starters' standards.

Justin Masterson was a major piece of the Victor Martinez deal in 2009 (five days ofter the Carrasco deal), but like Carrasco, wasn't as highly sought after as flamethrower Nick Hagadone. Masterson was a reliever that the Indians were planning on trying out as a starter. In his season and a half with the Tribe, Masterson is a less than stellar 7-20, with a 4.66 ERA. Many still debate whether or not Masterson is a starter, or a reliever. Most agree that Masterson's ceiling is #3 starter. He's certainly a stretch there now.

Josh Tomlin was battling for the last slot in the Indians' rotation throughout spring training. Now, Tomlin not only won the last spot, but was bumped up to the #4 spot because of the struggles of one Mitch Talbot. Tomlin was a bright spot in the Indians' pitching rotation after joining it in late July last year. Tomlin went 6-4, with a 4.56 ERA, and won five of his last seven starts. Tomlin isn't overpowering by any stretch, but he does possess command of four pitches and a high pitching IQ. Still, he's likely a couple of years away from being a lock in any rotation.

Mitch Talbot was a top prospect for the Astros and the DRays, but like Tomlin, he's not an overpowering pitcher. Talbot has one of the best change-ups in baseball. Unfortunately, he has a hard time repeating his fastball, which leaves him susceptible to getting hit. Talbot was clearly their best pitcher during the first two months of the season. He then struggled with consistency and injury. This year, Talbot got roughed up in the spring. His solid 2010 campaign likely gave him his second chance this season.

There is help on its way, in the form of Alex White. White, who will start the season off in Columbus, is a legit future #1 starter, and could find himself in Cleveland by July if he continues to impress. In the near future, Drew Pomeranz, Hector Rondon, Joe Gardner and several others have the potential to make an impact. Unfortunately for the Tribe, it doesn't appear as though this is the year to see an important impact from these top-end prospects.

It's unfortunate, because the Indians offense and bullpen will likely be the strength of this year's team. With a stopper to help anchor this rotation, things could be different. Will Carmona accept the role, or will the Indians have to wait for Alex White to emerge?

The Cleveland Indians 2011 starting staff does have upside, and will likely have starts in which they look fairly impressive. Unfortunately, the norm may be more like games 1 and 2, when an improving offense will have to carry a below average starting rotation.

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