Cleveland Indians: Has Justin Masterson Become the Tribe's New Ace?

Jim BerdyszCorrespondent IApril 26, 2011

Since the Cleveland Indians parted ways with CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee during the 2008 and 2009 seasons, they have been in search for one thing: pitching. 

We're not talking about just any kind of pitching, either, but the kind of pitching that can help the Tribe get back to the top of the American League Central Division and back into the postseason.

The 2011 Indians have certainly surprised the baseball world with their ability to win games early on this season. While they have struggled a little bit of late, losing four out of their last six games, the Tribe still holds the AL's best record at 14-8 and still maintain first place in the AL Central by 2.5 games over Kansas City and Detroit

There's no doubt Cleveland has seen big contributions from players both on the offensive and defensive side of the ball early on, but no player has played a bigger role to the Indians early success more than starting pitcher Justin Masterson.

What a difference just one year makes.

Think about this: Masterson won a total of just six games last season, where it took the right hander two months to finally notch his first win, which ended up coming on June 4 in his 11th start last year.

This season has been a complete turnaround for Masterson, as he has overcome the odds to become one of baseball's best starters out of the gate.

In his last 13 starts dating back to August 4, 2010, Masterson has gone 8-2 with a 2.50 ERA, giving up just 22 earned runs, walking 31 and striking out 55.

Here are his current 2011 stats through his first five starts compared with his 2010 stats, also through his first five starts:

April 2010 (Five starts): 0-3, 5.40 ERA, 26.2 IP, 36 H, 16 ER 12 BB, 31 SO 

April 2011 (Five starts): 5-0, 2.18 ERA , 33.0 IP, 26 H, 8 ER, 11 BB, 22 SO

Talk about a complete different start to a season, as Masterson is currently one of only two MLB starters to start 5-0 or better this season.

The key piece in the Victor Martinez trade to the Boston Red Sox two years ago, Masterson has shown his ability to not only throw strikes and go deeper into ball games, but become arguably the Indians most successful power pitcher in the rotation.

I think it's safe to say we can finally put the reliever speculation to rest once and for all, as there's no question Masterson will be a staple in the Tribe's rotation for many more years to come.

As to where in the rotation the Indians will end up putting the Jamaican native, that's still a big question.

Could Masterson end up taking the No. 1 spot from a struggling Fausto Carmona to become the Tribe's new ace as early as this year?

It's certainly a possibility.

Carmona at times has shown flashes of the type of pitcher he was last year and even during the 2007 season, but he could be classified by many Tribe fans as simply inconsistent.

Let's face it, if the Indians want to keep their winning ways going into May and well into the season, they may have to rethink the order of the starting rotation before the window of opportunity for 2011 quickly disappears.

Yes, you could say the No. 1 starter in a rotation is simply just a title given out by the team, as an ace only is an ace on Opening Day and no other time throughout the season, but fans could definitely look at it another way.

More often than not, a team's ace will go up against the ace of an opposing team during a three- or four- game series.

So I ask you, who would you rather see pitch against No. 1 starters like Jon Lester, Justin Verlander or Francisco Liriano: Carmona or Masterson?

Some people say don't fix what isn't broken, which is very true, as there are not many things I would want to fix as far as the Indians go so far this season.

If Mitch Talbot comes back off the disabled list and struggles, though, or Carlos Carrasco has to go on the DL and Carmona is still somewhat inconsistent, I would consider a switch to where Masterson takes over the No. 1 spot in the rotation over Carmona.

If the Indians want to keep winning in 2011, a move like this could be the only way to survive in the always tough AL Central, especially with the Tribe battling injuries and a few minor bumps in the road.

Masterson could simply become Cleveland's new "Master Plan" for success now and for the near future as well.