The Cleveland Indians' Bullpen Is Absolutely Dominating
Before the season, the Cleveland Indians were a chic pick to represent the American League in the World Series. The reason so many people liked the Tribe was because of a young starting rotation that was among the most dominant in baseball.
The combination of Carlos Carrasco, Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin gave the Indians an accomplished collection of starters, and Cleveland rode those big arms to a division title this season, just as many predicted.
But then, stuff started happening. Salazar and Carrasco both got hurt towards the end of the regular season and have been unavailable for the playoffs. And heading into last night's Game 3, it was unclear just how much the team would be able to get out of Bauer, who sliced open his pinkie finger last week while he was fixing his recreational drone.
Hey, we've all been there, right?
And so there was Bauer, on the mound in Game 3 last night in Toronto, trying to pitch as long as he could without opening up the gash in his pinkie that required 10 stitches to close. And it didn't take long to realize there was no way Bauer was going to be able to pitch in that game.
Bauer managed to record only two outs before exiting, forcing the outstanding and underrated Cleveland bullpen to get the final 25 outs.
And 25 outs later, the 'pen had pulled off the miracle, helping the Indians beat the powerful Toronto Blue Jays, 4-2, to take a 3-0 lead in the American League Championship Series. They are just one win away from their first appearance in the Fall Classic since 1997, and it's been their bullpen that is leading the way.
Picking Up the Slack
Game 3 wasn't the first time the Indians' relievers have done this.
We are now 4-1 this season in games in which our bullpen throws 8 or more innings.
That is crazy. #RallyTogether https://t.co/AHFAPEmlHV
— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) October 18, 2016
On Monday, Cleveland's bullpen went 8 1/3 innings and gave up just 2 runs on on 7 hits with 1 walk and 8 strikeouts. No Cleveland pitcher recorded more than five outs in Game 3, something no winning team had ever done before in a playoff game. Below is the box score for Cleveland's pitchers, telling the tale.
|Dan Otero||1 1/3||2||1||0||0|
|Jeff Manship||1 1/3||1||0||0||1|
|Bryan Shaw||1 2/3||2||0||0||2|
|Cody Allen||1 2/3||0||0||1||2|
|Andrew Miller||1 1/3||1||0||0||3|
It's Miller Time
Outside of Clayton Kershaw, there has been no more important a pitcher in this postseason than Andrew Miller. Already considered one of the best relievers in the game, Miller has taken on the role of fireman in Cleveland's bullpen, willing and able to enter games at any time for multiple innings and shut the opposing offense down.
He is a weapon that harkens back to a day when relief pitchers typically entered the seventh or eighth inning and pitched until the final out. And it is a market inefficiency that the Indians are exploiting to their advantage in this postseason.
If the opposition's best hitters are coming up in the seventh, that's when Miller comes in. Last night, Indians' manager Terry Francona, who has managed his pitching staff brilliantly this October, brought Miller in for the final four outs. Miller responded by allowing just one hit and recording three strikeouts, including this whiff of Russell Martin to end the 8th.
This postseason, Miller has logged nine innings and has yet to give up a run. Twenty of the 27 outs he's gotten in the playoffs have come via the strikeout, and he has walked just 2 batters and given up only 4 hits. Against Toronto, he has struck out 13 of the 17 batters he's faced. And his willingness to be used at any time, not caring about whether he gets the "save," has helped make his bullpen the most important key to Cleveland's six straight wins to start the 2016 playoffs.
Miller is undoubtedly the leader in the clubhouse for MVP of the American League Championship Series.
Getting It Done
The Indians' offense -- which finished second in the American League in runs per game (surprisingly ahead of the vaunted Blue Jays, who finished fifth) -- has given the team just enough to get the job done this postseason. But once again, the Indians are proving that it's possible to win in October without a stable of elite (healthy) starters.
The Tribe are using the San Francisco Giants' model of 2014 to get the job done. Just as the Giants rode Madison Bumgarner and their 'pen two years ago to a championship, the Indians are relying on their one healthy stud starter, Kluber, and their outstanding collection of relief pitchers to patch and fill. They're also relying on their manager, Francona, to expertly use that bullpen much in the same way Giants' skipper Bruce Bochy managed his.
So far, it's working, and it's a reminder that while starting pitching is vital to a team's regular season success, there is nothing more important than having a dominant bullpen in the postseason.
The Indians won a game they shouldn't have won last night despite getting just two outs from their starting pitcher. And now they only need one more to make it back to the World Series for the first time in nearly two decades. Up 3-0, our models give Cleveland a 94.77% chance of winning the series against Toronto and a 40.3% chance of winning it all. Last spring, the Cleveland Cavaliers snapped a lengthy title drought for the city, and now they might win another one.