It was more than ironic to go from Cliff Lee's clinic on pitching during his three-hitter Sunday night over St. Louis to the four-alarm fire drill that was the Indians' chaotic 14-12 loss to Milwaukee Monday. Beyond the irony of having two such disimilar games on back to back nights, the two games displayed what will be the fatel flaw in the Indians' hopes of crawling back into the division race.
That flaw is the lack of a consistent, productive No.2 starter behind Cliff Lee. Ideally, of course, you'd like to have at least three productive starters at the top of your rotation. The Indians currently have one: Lee. The former No.2 starter, Fausto Carmona, is such a mess right now that the Indians sent him all the way back to rookie ball to try to get him straightened out. He won't be back anytime soon, and can't be counted on to contribute much, if anything, the rest of this season - if and when he does return.
Carl Pavano, Monday's starter, was a stretch as a No.3 starter. To presume he could assume the role of a No.2 is unreasonable. The way he's pitched so far this year is probably as good as the Indians can hope for. He's probably a .500 pitcher, at best, this year. That won't cut it as a No.2 starter. Jeremy Sowers, David Huff, and Tomo Ohka? Please.
Jake Westbrook and Aaron Laffey could be back in the rotation by the end of the month. But Westbrook is barely a year removed from Tommy John surgery. It's unrealistic to expect a pitcher in that situation to assume the heavy responsibilities that come with being a No.2 starter. Laffey is too young and inexperienced to fill that role.
What all this means, of course, is that no matter how much the Indians keep "grinding'' they simply don't have the starting pitching with which to make any kind of serious run towards contention. The only reason they are still marginally in the race is that the AL Central is so bad it's virtually impossible to fall OUT of contention. If the Indians were in any other division they would be mere afterthoughts in those races.
The lack of any consistent starting pitching behind Lee makes it impossible to take the Indians seriously as a contender this year. And it's also the number one reason why all those Cliff Lee trade rumors are utterly ridiculous. Imagine what this Indians rotation would look like this year, and next, without Lee.