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Here's why the Cleveland Indians won't start Corey Kluber in Game 1 of the ALDS

By PAUL HOYNES • Oct 3, 2017 at 10:33 PM

CLEVELAND — The easiest thing for the Indians to do would be to start Corey Kluber in Game 1 of the AL Division Series on Thursday night at Progressive Field.

He's a fully-rested Cy Young candidate on a monster roll. He'd be pitching in front of a sellout crowd against the second-best starter of whichever team comes out of Tuesday night's AL wild card game between the Yankees and Twins. He'd be facing that team's second-best starter because the Yankees and Twins started their No.1s -- Luis Severino and Ervin Santana -- in the wild card game.

For a team that has stressed win the game at hand all season why not give yourself the best chance to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series? Who doesn't like a 1-0 lead?

Kluber has made one start against the Twins this year, striking out 13 and allowing two unearned runs in seven innings. He's 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA in two starts against the Yankees. He struck out 18 in 17 innings.

But the Indians aren't going to do it that way. They're going to have Trevor Bauer start Game 1 and start Kluber in Game 2 on Friday.

No doubt, Bauer has pitched well this year. He's 17-9 with a 4.19 ERA. Over his last 14 games, including 13 starts, he's 10-1 with a 2.60 ERA.

He's done a nice job against the Twins and Yankees as well. Bauer is 3-1 with a 3.71 ERA in five games, including four starts, against the Twins this year. He's 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts against the Yankees.

But when you have a pitcher who is the equivalent of a Joe Frazier left hook, why would stop him from taking the mound at the first opportunity?

Here's the reason the Indians aren't starting Kluber in Game 1.

They do not want to pitch Kluber on short rest in the postseason. They were forced to do so last year because their rotation was injured and it finally wore Kluber down in Game 7 of the World Series.

So the math goes like this: Kluber was going to start Game 1 and Game 5 or Game 2 and Game 5 in the ALDS. If he started Game 1, he was not going to come back and pitch Game 4 on short rest.

Manager Terry Francona went to Kluber a couple of weeks ago and asked him what he preferred to do. Kluber said he preferred to start Game 2 and come back for Game 5, if necessary, on normal rest.

Should the Indians advance to the best-of-seven ALCS in fewer than five games, Kluber would be in line to start Games 1, 4 and 7. The ALCS starts on Oct. 13. If the Indians qualify, they will have home-field advantage.

Carlos Carrasco, arguably the second-best starter on the staff, will start Game 3 at Yankee Stadium or Target Field on Sunday. Carrasco, like Kluber, won 18 games and struck out more than 220 hitters this year. While Kluber has pitched like a homebody this year -- he's 10-2, with a 1.81 ERA at Progressive Field -- Carrasco likes the road. He went 11-2 with a 2.65 ERA in 17 road starts.

That's another reason why the Indians won't open this series with the traditional alignment of Kluber, Carrasco and Bauer in the rotation.

Francona told reporters Tuesday that the Josh Tomlin would be the fourth starter, but that assignment is in flux. Tomlin will be in the bullpen for the first two games. Depending on if he's needed to pitch, and how the Indians are doing in the series, he could start Game 4 on Monday or Francona could turn to other options presented by this roster.

Bauer, depending on how much he pitched in Game 1, is durable enough to start Game 4 on short rest. Or it could be converted starters Mike Clevinger or Danny Salazar. They will open the ALDS in the bullpen, knocking heavy-duty relievers Dan Otero, Nick Goody and Zach McAllister off the roster.

The addition of Michael Brantley brings some of that flexibility to the position player side of the roster. Right now, Brantley is only a pinch hitter, and it would not be surprising if Francona doesn't try to use him at the first opportunity. He could bat for third baseman Giovanny Urshela or Urshela's replacement, Erik Gonzalez.

If the Indians run out of third basemen -- Yandy Diaz did not make the club -- they could bring Jason Kipnis in from center field to play second and move Jose Ramirez to third. Rookie Greg Allen made the roster to replace Kipnis in such situations.

The roster has a lot of moving parts, a lot of flexibility. From the outside looking in, it's healthier and more talented than last year. But is it as desperate?

That's what drove the Indians and Francona last year. No Brantley, no Carrasco, no Salazar. Bauer was wounded by his own drone. Francona managed every game as if it was his last. His players played like that as well and just missed winning the whole thing.

They are back again this year as the top seed with 102 wins. They have compiled a resume of gleaming stats stretching from the shores of Lake Erie to the Arizona Fall League. But they best not forget about desperation.

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