Indians May Need Corey Kluber's Best Madison Bumgarner Imitation in World Series

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistOctober 25, 2016

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 18:  Corey Kluber #28 of the Cleveland Indians throws a pitch in the second inning against the Toronto Blue Jays during game four of the American League Championship Series at Rogers Centre on October 18, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

The Cleveland Indians don't need Corey Kluber to be anyone other than himself.

He's one of MLB's top-shelf arms, after all—a Cy Young Award winner in 2014, an All-Star in 2016 and a stud throughout this postseason. He'll take the ball in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday with the faith of a title-starved city behind him.

Still, if Kluber could be Kluber with a dusting of Madison Bumgarner, the Tribe wouldn't protest.

We're using Bumgarner as shorthand for a starting pitcher who slings a team over his back and carries it across the October finish line. It's what MadBum did in 2014 for the San Francisco Giants. And it may be what the Indians ask of Kluber, per ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney:

The calculus could change if Cleveland wins the first two games at Progressive Field and wrests control of the series.

Assuming that doesn't happen, however, manager Terry Francona will think twice before digging deep into his depleted rotation against a dangerous Chicago Cubs lineup.

Before we explore that, let's recount what Kluber has accomplished this October.

Through 18.1 innings spread over three starts, the 30-year-old right-hander owns a 0.98 ERA with 20 strikeouts and has held opposing hitters to a .197 average.

He won his first two starts, in Game 2 of a division series against the Boston Red Sox and Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Toronto Blue Jays, logging 13.1 shutout innings with 13 strikeouts.

He absorbed his lone loss in Game 4 of the ALCS, yielding four hits, two walks and two earned runs in five innings. That start came on short rest, so you could argue it's a cautionary tale.

It's not as if Kluber was a gas can, however. He struck out seven and flashed the array of weapons—a power sinker, cutter and sweeping breaking ball—that make him one of MLB's least comfortable at-bats.

Kluber has eclipsed 200 innings in each of the last three seasons. Durability is listed under the "special skills" section on his resume.

He's also got that intangible quality—call it grit, call it moxie, call it what you will. It's what Bumgarner exudes at his scowling, otherworldly best.

"Corey's a tremendous competitor," Indians closer Cody Allen said after Game 1 of the ALCS, per MLB.com's Jane Lee. "It never looks like the game's speeding up on him or it's getting out of control, and that's the sign of a true ace."

After that win, the New York Post's Ken Davidoff conjured the Bumgarner comp, so we're not pulling this from the speculative ether.

OK, now a few words about the rest of the Indians' starting rotation.

Josh Tomlin has been a revelation, going 2-0 with a 2.53 ERA and 10 strikeouts in 10.2 innings. Trevor Bauer, however, is a question mark as he recovers from a drone-induced finger injury. Rookie Ryan Merritt is the lone lefty in the mix, but he's made only two big league starts in his nascent career.

All-Star Danny Salazar is an intriguing X-factor. He hasn't pitched since going down on Sept. 9 with a forearm strain, though, and can hardly be counted on.

That's a lot of ifs and maybes. Kluber is a safe bet. Fortunately for the Indians, he's got backup.

With the bullpen duo of Andrew Miller and Cody Allen behind him, Kluber doesn't need to pitch too deep into any game.
With the bullpen duo of Andrew Miller and Cody Allen behind him, Kluber doesn't need to pitch too deep into any game.Jason Miller/Getty Images

Allen and setup man Andrew Miller have combined for 19.1 innings of 10-hit, no-run ball with 33 strikeouts. In essence, they've made every Indians playoff game a five- or six-inning affair. If the Tribe have a lead late, forget about it.

Kluber, then, won't necessarily have to flirt with complete games. Five or six strong frames may be all the Indians require with Miller and Allen waiting to finish the kill.

In that sense, Kluber could channel a combination of 2014 Bumgarner and the 2014 Kansas City Royals, the club Bumgarner vanquished that year in the Fall Classic.

The '14 Royals, you'll recall, had a shutdown bullpen headlined by Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera that ruthlessly shortened contests. Add a thoroughbred No. 1 starter to that squad, and it probably would have won it all, as it went on to do in 2015.

Kluber should focus on being Kluber, comparisons and distractions aside. He'll have his hands full against the Cubbies, who lead all postseason qualifiers with 48 runs scored.

If he's looking for someone to emulate, however, he could do worse than MadBum.

Or, to put it another way, he couldn't do much better.

    

All statistics accurate as of Monday and courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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