Originally posted on Taking Bad Schotz  |  Last updated 6/25/13

It’s no secret, if the Cleveland Indians are going to contend for a Wild Card bid or a division title, their starting pitching has to hold up. So far, it’s been a rollercoaster ride. As a team, the Indians are currently 23rd in the majors (and 10th in the American League) with a 4.24 earned run average. The Indians don’t have to be stellar from the mound; they just have to be average. Cleveland has solid contributors on offense, as the Indians are seventh in home runs, sixth in RBI’s and eighth in batting average in the AL. The pitching, however, has been a work in progress. The Indians’ record has fluctuated between bad, very good and mostly average. Cleveland started the season 5-10, allowing six or more runs on seven of those losses. But after a few weeks of playing .500 ball, the Indians caught fire, winning 18 of their next 22 games to take the division lead with a stout 26-17 record. Then the pitching started to collapse once again. Cleveland followed that scintillating stretch by losing 16 out of 20 that included a stretch of eight consecutive losses. So what did the Indians do next? They won eight out of 11, taking advantage of their most consistent stretch of starting pitching. At 39-36, the Indians are 3.5 games behind the AL Central-leading Detroit Tigers. Here’s a look at the Indians rotation (the number indicates their spot on the rotation) and how their stock is looking: 1. Justin Masterson (9-5, 3.48 ERA on 16 starts) The ace of the rotation. Masterson has been the only starting pitcher to consistently pitch at a high level for Cleveland, giving them 10 quality starts in 16 outings. His ERA has not been higher than 3.68 all year. The sinkerball-throwing Masterson is also third in the AL in wins (nine) and fourth in strikeouts (110). Stock:  Positively steady. 2. Scott Kazmir (4-4, 5.37 ERA on 12 starts) Kazmir, a two-time All-Star who led the AL in strikeouts in 2007, saw his career derailed after multiple elbow, hamstring and shoulder injuries. After two disappointing seasons with the Sugar Land Skeeters and the “Gigantes de Carolina” in the Puerto Rican professional league, Kazmir somehow landed a deal with the Indians.  The experiment has been both positive and negative. In his wins, he’s been stellar (five earned runs on 26 IP). In his losses and no decisions, he’s been rocked (32 earned runs on 36 IP). As much as I want to root for someone to turn his career around, it’s hard not to predict Kazmir unraveling. Stock: Will probably decline. 3. Corey Kluber (6-4, 3.38 ERA on 11 starts) As the most surprising pitcher for the Indians this season, Kluber has been remarkably consistent. After starting the season 2-2 with a 5.64 ERA, Kluber has steadily trimmed his ERA to 3.38 and has won his last three decisions. In a season where injuries and inconsistency has plagued Cleveland, Kluber has become Cleveland’s second best pitcher. Stock: Steadily rising. 4. Ubaldo Jimenez (6-4, 4.58 ERA on 15 starts) Remember when the Indians traded all those prospects for Jimenez in 2011 hoping to make a run at the wild card? Yeah, Indians fans have always had reasons to despise Jimenez (Jimenez went 9-17 last season with a 5.40 ERA and 4-4 with a 5.10 ERA in 2011). But Jimenez has been a lot better in the last six weeks. Remember, the key with Jimenez is for him to be “wildly effective.” When he’s “too wild” and walking everything in sight, then you know you’re in trouble. After three starts, a 0-2 record and a 11.25 ERA, Jimenez has gone 6-2 in his next 12 starts, trimming his ERA to 4.58 (the Indians are 9-3 in those 12 starts). Jimenez has not been a rockstar by any stretch, but he’s kept Cleveland in games and that’s what you ask for from a starting pitcher. Stock: Cautiously rising. 5. Carlos Carrasco (0-3, 7.78 ERA on four starts) Carrasco was called up after Zach McAllister went on the disabled list and so far has not done anything to keep his job. Carrasco was the centerpiece of the Cliff Lee trade that sent Lee to the Phillies in 2009. After a pair of promising seasons, Carrasco underwent Tommy John Surgery in 2011, missing all of 2012. Carrasco is only 26 years old and has pretty good stuff in his arsenal, so the Indians won’t be ready to give up on him. But in four starts this year, he’s been shelled on three of them (for what it’s worth he was great in his other). The Indians were always planning on sending down either Kazmir or Carrasco once McAllister healed up. All signs point to Carrasco. Stock: Get ready to go back to the minors. What about?  Zach McAllister (4-5, 3.43 ERA on 11 starts) McAllister was placed on the 15-day DL on June 3 for a sprained right middle finger. There is nothing flashy about McAllister. He’s your average hard-working pitcher who just gets the job done. McAllister went 6-8 with a 4.24 ERA last season. This year, McAllister has pitched great for Cleveland (he has not allowed more than four runs in a game all season). He will give the rotation a huge lift when he returns. Brett Myers (0-3, 8.02 ERA on three starts) Myers will not be returning to the starting rotation this year. The right-hander did not fare well this year, allowing 10 home runs in 21 IP, and has been on the DL with an inflamed elbow since April 20. Manager Terry Francona said bringing him back as a middle reliever seems like the “prudent” decision considering the injury Myers is coming from.  That’s not a new role for Myers, who had 70 combined relief appearances for the White Sox and Astros (3.31 ERA, 3-8 record and 19 saves). Trevor Bauer (1-2, 2.76 ERA on three starts) Bauer, a former No. 3 overall pick by the Diamondbacks in 2011, pitched well for Cleveland in his three starts, allowing five earned runs in 16.1 IP.  The Indians have utilized Bauer as their postponed-game-emergency pitcher, but at the very least Bauer proved he’s ready to get a shot in the near future. Just maybe not in 2013 (unless someone else gets injured or the Indians go through another rough stretch of rainouts). Prediction for the rest of the season: Masterson and Kluber will continue to be effective for the Indians. Kazmir will slide a bit, Jimenez will slightly improve and a healthy McAllister will add a boost to the rotation. As I said before, the pitching does not have to be stellar for the Indians to contend for a playoff spot, it just needs to be consistent. Surprisingly enough, the Indians’ success might be measured by how consistent Kazmir and Jimenez can be (both have been wildly inconsistent in the last three years).  If that happens, the Indians will be right in the thick of things. If they both slide, the Indians will hover around .500 all season-long. -Zamarripa

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