Corey Kluber is getting closer to rejoining the red-hot Indians, and Carlos Carrasco isn't too far behind

On the morning of June 16, the Cleveland Indians sat 11 games behind the Twins in the AL Central. Cleveland has gone 36-15 since then -- only the Yankees (38-14) have a better record during that time -- to climb into a virtual tie with the Twins. That 11-game deficit is gone.

Here are the AL Central standings coming into Wednesday:

  1. Minnesota Twins: 72-47
  2. Cleveland Indians: 72-48 (1/2 GB)
  3. Chicago White Sox: 53-65 (18 1/2 GB)
  4. Kansas City Royals: 43-77 (29 1/2 GB)
  5. Detroit Tigers: 35-81 (35 1/2 GB)

The Wild Card Game is available as a fallback should the Indians not win the AL Central -- Cleveland currently has a 1 1/2-game lead for the top wild-card spot -- but no one wants to settle for the Wild Card Game. The Indians want to win the division for the fourth straight year and avoid that winner-take-all contest.

Amazingly, the Indians have made this run without Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco. Kluber has not pitched since a comebacker broke his forearm on May 1, and Carrasco has been out since May 30. He was recently diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia. Also, Cleveland traded away Trevor Bauer at the deadline. You're not supposed to lose guys like Kluber and Carrasco, then trade away Bauer, and still storm up the standings. And yet, the Indians have done it.

There is good news though. Kluber started a minor-league rehab assignment last week and he threw four innings and 60 pitches in a Double-A game on Tuesday night. Here's what manager Terry Francona told reporters, including Jeff Schudel of the News-Herald and Morning-Journal, about Kluber's progress and upcoming schedule:

"Velocity started to tick up a bit (Tuesday) and by all accounts he looked kind of like Kluber. He'll pitch Sunday in Charlotte (in Triple-A)."

Sunday will be Kluber's third rehab start and it is entirely possible he could rejoin the Indians after that. I imagine it will depend on how he feels, how he looks, and how comfortable the Indians are with his pitch count. Kluber will likely stretch it out to 75-80 pitches on Sunday, putting him in line for 90 pitches or so next time out after that.

Furthermore, Carrasco is moving ahead with his recovery as well. He's thrown several bullpen sessions in recent days and, according to Francona, Carrasco will begin facing hitters this Friday.

Facing hitters in live batting practice or a simulated game is still a long way from the big leagues, but it is progress, and Carrasco is doing well. That's great news given his diagnosis. Assuming things go well when he faces hitters, Carrasco would then go out on a minor-league rehab assignment soon thereafter.

Even if Kluber makes two Triple-A rehab starts, it sounds like he is on track to rejoin the Indians this month. I think it'll be one Triple-A start and he'll be back in the rotation next weekend, but we'll see. As for Carrasco, he is more likely to return after rosters expand in September. The Indians could even bring him back as a reliever rather than spend all that time stretching him out to start.

Either way, Kluber and Carrasco are working their way back, and that's great news for the Tribe. Zach Plesac and Aaron Civale have done nice work filling in the rotation the last few weeks. Adding Kluber and Carrasco to Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger makes an already dangerous Indians teams that much more dangerous though.

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

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