Indians starting rotation having its best stretch in years

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee were involved the last time Indians starters had a stretch this good.

Saturday night Justin Masterson pitched 7.1 shutout innings for the Indians. He struck out six while walking only one. His velocity still isn't where it was in years past, which is perhaps a little troubling, but it was arguably his best start of the season so far.

Sunday afternoon Corey Kluber was dominant. He allowed only one run in 8 innings, while allowing only two hits and striking out a career high 13 batters. He struck out seven in a row at one point, establishing a new franchise record. In the last two weeks he's made probably the two best starts of his career.

Monday night Zach McAllister delivered 6.2 shutout frames, striking out eight and walking only one. He's been a league-average pitcher over the last couple seasons, making him a very solid #4 starter. So far this season though, he's pitching far better than that.

Tuesday night Josh Tomlin joined the rotation and pitched 6.2 innings, allowing only one run on just four hits and one walk. We didn't see the velocity uptick that's been reported, but you can't argue with the results, especially given that it was his first MLB start in nearly two years.

Masterson, Kluber, McAllister, and Tomlin have given the Tribe four consecutive starts of at least 6 innings and no more than one run allowed (of course, the Indians have only managed to win two of those four games, but that's another story). I tend to think that probably doesn't happen very often. You know me though, I have a hard time leaving "tend to think" alone, and prefer to find out for sure.

When was the last time the Indians had four straight starts like these? Did it happen late last season, when the Tribe went on a roll and Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir were two of the best pitchers in the American League after the All-Star break? Nope. Did it happen in 2012, when the Indians rotation was one of the worst in MLB history? (for more on that topic, read this post, from my second week with the site) No, of course they didn't?

You have to go back to May of 2008 to find a run like this. The starting rotation at that time was CC Sabathia, Aaron Laffey, Cliff Lee, the artist formerly known as Fausto Carmona, and Paul Byrd.

On May 9 that season, Sabathia allowed one run in 7 innings, striking out nine. On May 10, Laffey pitched 7 shutout frames. After rain postponed the next day's game, May 12 brought a doubleheader. Carmona pitched a complete-game shutout in the first game, and Cliff Lee followed that with 9 shutout innings of his own (he didn't win though, because the offense didn't score any runs and the bullpen lost the game in extras... doesn't that sound familiar?).

Those four games were even more impressive than the ones we've seen these last few days, but the 2008 rotation wasn't finished after four games.

On May 13 it was Paul Byrd's turn. He went 7.1 innings without allowing a run, striking out seven and not walking anyone. The next day it was back to Sabathia; he tossed a shutout, with eleven strikeouts. On May 15 Laffey pitched 7 innings, allowing only an unearned run. That's where things ended, because Jeremy Sowers was brought up for a spot start (necessitated by the doubleheader a few days earlier) and gave up three runs in 5 innings.

Seven consecutive starts of 6+ innings and no more than one runs allowed. In fact, the starters in those games all went 7+ innings. McAllister and Tomlin each going one out short of that means there's no chance this current streak can live up to that one, but it's still the best stretch we've seen from the Tribe rotation in six years. Let's hope Danny Salazar can push it to five games this evening. He wouldn't want to be left out.

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