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Being a native New Yorker, I used to enjoy getting into little arguments over who had the better rotation -- the Cleveland Indians or the New York Mets.
I guess that was pretty funny in retrospect. (Perhaps I'll replace Peyton Manning as host of the ESPYs next year.)
The Mets have a team ERA of 4.94, good for third-to-last in Major League Baseball, even if injuries are a leading culprit. The Indians are third with an ERA of 3.78, even if it hasn't felt that way at times. After all, while the Cleveland bullpen is tops in the majors with a 2.84 ERA, the team's starters are more pedestrian, ranking 11th with an ERA of 4.29.
Last year, we watched in amazement as Corey Kluber and Andrew Miller pitched out of their minds to lead the Indians to the World Series. With Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar back from injury this season, the sky seemed to be the limit for this Cleveland rotation.
And Carrasco has been dominant, lugging a 10-3 record and 3.44 ERA into the break, the perfect complement to Kluber's 7-3 mark and 2.80 ERA. The question exiting the All-Star break: Will anyone join them?
Salazar, currently back on the disabled list, has a 3-5 record and a 5.40 ERA, and neither Josh Tomlin (5-9, 5.90) nor Trevor Bauer (7-7, 5.24) has fared much better.
And so the questions hover over Cleveland: How good is this starting rotation? Is this a championship-winning staff?
The answers should arrive shortly, starting with the front office's response.
Last year, the Indians brass faced a similarly challenging query: Is Cleveland contending to the point that the Indians will make a big splash before the trade deadline? Did they ever. They picked up Miller and the rest of 2016 is history -- enshrined in a pennant that will forever hang at Progressive Field.
As for this season?
Prior to the 2017 campaign, the Indians clearly felt they had enough pitching. While Boston went out and got Chris Sale, Cleveland didn't add any starting pitchers of significance.
Now, the reeling Chicago Cubs have traded for Jose Quintana, a name occasionally linked to Cleveland, and a stark reminder that the Indians must make their decision soon. Chicago made its choice. It's Cleveland's turn.
Do the Indians need another pitcher? Who would start Game 3 in a playoff series after Kluber pitched Game 1 and Carrasco threw in Game 2? What about Game 4? Would the Indians again choose to throw Kluber on short rest? We all saw how tired Kluber, after throwing on short rest the entire 2016 postseason, looked in Game 7 against the Cubs.
The Cubs have landed their prime piece. Though Quintana struggled early this season, he posted a 1.78 ERA over five June starts, and has recorded an ERA below four in all five of his full big-league seasons. In 2016, he posted his best ERA yet at 3.20.
Do the Indians need someone similar?
I'd argue yes, but at the same time, I'm glad I'm not the one who has to answer that question. It's a tough debate, far trickier than my original battles about which rotation was better -- the Mets or the Indians.