At this point in time, it’s clear that the Cleveland Indians have no intention of competing for the playoffs in 2021.
Their current record is 55-58.
They are 11.5 games behind the Chicago White Sox for the division lead, and are currently tied with the up-and-coming Detroit Tigers in second place.
You could argue that Cleveland isn’t even the second-best team in the division anymore.
That 55-58 record has the Indians (soon to be Guardians) nine games behind the second Wild Card spot and 11 behind the first one, so that doesn’t appear to be a real possibility for them either.
They have suffered three straight losses and have dropped seven of their last 10 contests.
Having said all this, they have been without their best pitcher, Shane Bieber, for a significant portion of the 2021 campaign.
Bieber Is Nearing A Return
Bieber, out since mid-June with a right shoulder strain, is reportedly on track to throw a bullpen session this weekend.
The Indians are hoping that Shane Bieber will be able to throw his first bullpen at some point this weekend.
— Mandy Bell (@MandyBell02) August 12, 2021
That would be the first time he throws off a mound since he hit the injured list.
If he suffers no setbacks from this point on, he could make a few starts in the final month of the season, but first, he needs to get on the field.
He would need to throw bullpens, face live hitters, and go to a rehab assignment to test his shoulder.
That seems like a lot of risk for a very questionable reward.
If Cleveland is out of the playoff picture, what is the point of risking a further injury when there is absolutely nothing to play for?
Bieber, currently sitting on a 3.28 ERA and 130 strikeouts in 90.2 innings in 2021, doesn’t have any chances of winning the Cy Young, and Cleveland is far from the race for a playoff spot.
Yes, Cleveland will surely want their ace to log some additional innings with 2022 in mind (to get closer to a normal workload next season after what would be two shortened seasons in his case, 2020 and 2021).
Having Him On The Comeback Trail Is An Unnecessary Risk
However, it’s his shoulder we are talking about, one of the most delicate body parts in which a pitcher can suffer an injury.
The Indians would be better off making sure Bieber’s shoulder heals up properly with a full offseason of rest, and then try to compete again in 2022.
By not shutting him down for the remainder of the 2021 season, Cleveland is not only risking his health and future performance, but they are also risking a potential trade piece down the road with no need to do it.
The 26-year old is about to enter his arbitration years in 2022, and will start to get expensive whether he signs an extension or not.
On-field performance – i.e., putting the best possible team on the field – would be a priority if Cleveland had any kind of chance to make it into October, but that is clearly not the case.
Cleveland should avoid the unnecessary risk and shut down their ace for 2021.
I am hoping they shut Bieber down for the rest of the year and let that shoulder fully heal and start a normal off-season, myself.
— Quincy Wheeler (@QuincyWheeler1) August 3, 2021
That way, Bieber would have several months of rest and would be ready for spring training, when the team will have another shot at contention if they so decide.