By: Noah Wright
If you haven’t been following Cleveland Indians news recently, right handed starter Mike Clevinger has been placed on the IL/DL. He is said to have a type of upper back strain, and while it was originally nothing much to worry about, it has developed into something greater. Clevinger could now miss up to 8 weeks of playing time because of the injury.
Clevinger has been a staple in the Indians amazing rotation the past 2 years. In 2018, Clevinger reached the 200 inning mark on the dot, turning in a very good 3.02 ERA, 3.52 FIP, an 1.155 WHIP. He gave up just 21 home runs resulting in a .9 HR/9 rate. Walks weren’t an issue either, as his BB/9 was a low 3.0. Opposing hitters swung and missed a fair amount as well, with Clevinger striking batters out at a 9.3 per 9 rate. Clevinger was getting off to a great start again in 2019. He had already tossed 12 innings of no run, 2 hit baseball, while striking out 22 batters, and walking 4. To add on, it’s not like they have an extremely deep pen, so it’s not like they can just throw in a guy who’s good for 4-5 innings, and let the pen take care of the rest.
Needless to say, this is a large blow to the Indians. That’s easily 200 innings, and 200 K’s they just lost for 2 months. While they do have other arms to fill in during Clevinger’s absence, and a stacked rotation from 1-3, this is going to hurt the Indians, big time. They already have Francisco Lindor on the DL, as well as Jason Kipnis, Bradley Zimmer, and Danny Salazar for the time being. Their line-up is fairly weak overall. Jose Ramirez is off to a cold start to the season. However while Carlos Santana and Hanley Ramirez have been carrying this offense (both of whom are the only regular batters with an OPS above .800), who knows how much Hanley has left in the tank, and there’s no way Santana can keep up .950+ OPS production all year.
This injury means a lot more to the AL Central as a whole. A handful of the AL Central teams are a breakout player away from being a real threat. The Twins are a mere half game behind the Indians for first place. A handful of their bats have gotten off to hot starts to the season. Mitch Garver, Willians Astudillo, Jonathan Schoop, Jorge Polanco, Nelson Cruz, and former #1 prospect Byron Buxton all are performing very well. While I don’t expect all of them to keep up the kind of production they are at now, it’s not unreasonable that all of them have solid years, and that already makes their line-up deeper than the Indians. Jose Berrios and Tommy John bounceback Michael Pineda are already looking good out of the gate. If Jake Odorizzi and/or Kyle Gibson get it together, you’re looking at a very good baseball club.
The White Sox could also be looking to make a push. Yoan Moncada is finally looking like the player he was supposed to be. He’s batting great through his first 46 PA’s of the year. Tim Anderson is also getting off to a blistering hot start. When Eloy Jimenez and Jose Abreu start to heat up, they could make a dangerous 1-4 batters. All the White Sox need to do is get their starting pitching to start looking like an MLB pitching staff, and they could potentially also be in the talking for the AL Central.
Even the Tigers could conceivably be in the running. While all but Nick Castellanos has started off cold, a handful of their pitchers have gotten off to good starts. Matt Boyd, Jordan Zimmerman, Tyson Ross, and Matt Moore (injured) all have ERA’s under 3.50. While some of their FIP’s indicate they have gotten lucky, it sure is helping them win regardless. Detroit is off to a 7-4 start to the season. If they can ever get their bats to heat up, they could pose a threat to the Indians as well.
The Royals are in the division as well, but even with how weak this group is, I still don’t see them posing as a threat unless everything goes right for them. Regardless, Clevinger’s injury could cause a domino affect in the AL Central, and create a full free for all. The Indians were weak as is entering the 2019 season. Any significant injury to their pitching staff would have been a real shot in the arm. As you can tell now, it is becoming very detrimental to the Indians. However, the year has just started, and you never know what’s going to happen over 162 games.