The Cleveland Indians take on the Seattle Mariners on Saturday in Game 23 of the MLB season at Progressive Field.
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Game 23: Indians (12-10) vs. Mariners (11-13)
First pitch: 4:10 p.m.
Broadcast info: SportsTime Ohio; WTAM 100 AM; WMMS 100.7 FM; Indians Radio Network.
Pitching matchup: RHP Danny Salazar (1-2, 4.37 ERA) vs. RHP Yovani Gallardo (1-2, 4.84).
Fact du jour: With 577 career strikeouts, Indians starter Danny Salazar needs four punchouts to tie Corey Kluber (581 K) for the 2nd-most strikeouts in an Tribe pitcher’s first 90 career appearances (Herb Score is first with 616)Almost 30 percent of ESPN’s baseball experts picked Cleveland to win the World Series this year, and for an easy-to-explain reason: The Indians came within one run of winning it last year without the injured Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco in their postseason rotation. This year, the thinking went, those two are healthy — the Indians’ playoff rotation will be nasty.
Carrasco is doing his part to make the predictions look smart. In four starts entering Friday night, he had allowed only five runs. Last Saturday he went eight scoreless innings against the White Sox. By the advanced pitching metrics at Baseball Prospectus, he has been the third-most valuable pitcher in baseball this year.
But the day after Carrasco’s near-shutout, Salazar allowed four hits and two walks in the first inning against Chicago. He took the loss, his ERA swelling to 4.37.
What has Cleveland done to fix its pitching? Well, nothing
The worst rotation ERA in baseball — from a staff that pitched into November. The Indians could have panicked when their starters stumbled early. Why were they so confident things would improve?
What might surprise you, then, is that Salazar appears right alongside Carrasco near the top of those advanced leaderboards. At BP, Salazar’s deserved run average — an ERA-like metric that takes into account everything from the quality of his opponents to the defense behind him to the weather — is a minuscule 1.09, the eighth-lowest in baseball this young season.
DRA isn’t alone. At Baseball-Reference, Salazar’s 2.02 FIP would be a career best by more than a run — and ranks eighth among all starters this year. He’s 10th on FanGraphs’ wins above replacement leaderboard. He’s leading the majors in strikeout rate, almost a full strikeout per nine innings better than the all-time. And 38 percent of swings against him have come up empty, the highest whiff rate of any starter in baseball.
Put it all together, and we are watching the long-awaited breakout by one of the game’s most powerful arms, the midcareer blossoming of a true ace. Or else we’re watching the continuing frustration of an often-unhittable pitcher who perpetually seems one adjustment away from actually fulfilling his promise.
Salazar packs an extraordinary amount of gunpowder into his right arm. He’