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Indians will face rough road to the postseason without Salazar or Carrasco

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The Cleveland Indians may be one of the fortunate few whose place in the postseason is all but secured, but getting through the playoffs will be an entirely different story. On the heels of a season-ending forearm injury for right-hander Danny Salazar, the Indians lost their No. 2 starter when Ian Kinsler smacked a 101 m.p.h. line drive off of Carlos Carrasco’s hand in the first inning of Saturday’s game against the Tigers.

Carrasco exited the game after just two pitches and X-rays later revealed a fractured metacarpal bone in his throwing hand. According to MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian, the Indians don’t yet have an estimate for the right-hander’s return. If he follows the same timetable for recovery as the Tigers’ Nick Castellanos, who broke the same bone in his hand back in August, there’s little to no chance that he’ll return to Cleveland’s roster within the season, let alone as a playoff contributor.

Salazar, too, is expected to be out of service for the next 3-4 weeks while he recovers from forearm tightness in his throwing arm. Although manager Terry Francona didn’t rule out the possibility that Salazar could contribute in later rounds of the playoffs, the Indians will have to look elsewhere to cobble together enough quality starts to make it that far.

As the roster currently stands, Francona’s rotation includes four viable starters: Cy Young Award candidate Corey Kluber, right-handers Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin, and rookie Mike Clevinger. Kluber has been solid in the second half, turning out the second-lowest ERA among American League starters, at 2.40, and racking up 1.5 fWAR in 82 ⅔ innings. Where Kluber improved his second half production, Bauer appears to have regressed, bringing his 3.30 ERA up to 5.17 since the All-Star break and maintaining a team-worst 3.75 BB/9 in 69 ⅔ innings. His second-half fWAR, at 0.7, ranks just above that of Josh Tomlin’s -0.1 mark.

Beyond Kluber and Bauer, the Indians’ pitching staff is on shaky ground. Tomlin entered the rotation following Salazar’s untimely exit and yielded five strong innings against the White Sox, giving up one run and striking out two batters in Cleveland’s 6-1 win. Outside of his spot start, he’s been a little unsteady, however, and his 7.22 ERA and 2.41 HR/9 in the second half are the highest marks in the Indians’ rotation.

Clevinger, on the other hand, has primarily pitched out of the bullpen this year, and hasn’t lasted longer than five innings in any start he’s made in 2016. It should come as some comfort to Francona that Clevinger hasn’t had a full-blown meltdown since a string of poor starts back in May, and has worked hard to bring his ERA down from 7.71 in the first half to a respectable 3.10 in the second.

Whether Clevinger will be able to last through five- and six-inning starts remains to be seen, however, and there’s still been no discussion about a potential fifth starter bolstering the rotation as the club approaches the end of the season. Without a serviceable rotation, the Indians will rely more heavily on a fourth-best offensive drive and eighth-best bullpen to carry them through these next two weeks. Barring further injuries, what happens beyond that is anyone’s guess.

Video: J.D. Martinez hits league-tying 23rd home run

Seattle Mariners v Boston Red Sox
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The Red Sox and Mariners left nothing on the table Friday night, going head-to-head in a series opener that eventually ended 14-10 in the Sox’ favor. Led by Steven Wright and Wade LeBlanc — neither of whom made it past the fifth inning — the teams combined for 34 hits and four home runs, including two moonshots from Seattle’s Nelson Cruz and a five-run rally that gave Boston the edge in the seventh.

In the sixth inning, however, the Red Sox were still scrambling to make up a four-run deficit. Left fielder J.D. Martinez cut it in half with one swing, pouncing on an 89.5-mph fastball from Seattle right-hander Nick Vincent and posting it to dead center field for a two-run shot.

The 427-foot blast was Martinez’s 23rd of the season, tying Mike Trout for the most home runs in the league this year. While he still has a ways to go before eclipsing the career-best 45-HR mark he set in 2017, he’s off to a strong start this season: Entering Friday’s game, the 30-year-old slugger was batting .315/.386/.623 with a 1.009 OPS and AL-leading 55 RBI in 308 PA. He finished Friday’s game 4-for-5 with five RBI, just one triple shy of hitting for the cycle.

Heading into the All-Star Break, both Martinez and Trout still have some competition for the home run title. Jose Ramirez is sitting at 22 homers, while Nelson Cruz and Khris Davis are tied at 20 apiece.