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.