These Playoffs Have Belonged to the Cleveland Indians' Pitching Staff
This postseason has been all about pitching. League-wide, starters have been excellent before handing the ball over to a seemingly endless supply of bullpen arms who throw in the upper 90s.
Cumulative postseason batting line: .219/.286/.357. Which is basically Colby Rasmus' season.
— David Schoenfield (@dschoenfield) October 29, 2016
In the 2016 #mlb #postseason:
— Joe Sheehan (@joe_sheehan) October 29, 2016
Other than the fact each team has a whole mess of terrifying mashers, the common thread between the Jays, Red Sox and Cubs is that they've faced the Cleveland Indians. No team's pitching has dominated this postseason quite like Cleveland's. Despite being without Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar -- the latter has thrown one inning in relief as he works his way back from injury -- the Indians' pitching staff has shut down three of the best offenses in baseball.
Toronto, Boston and the Cubs all ranked in the top seven in the regular season in wOBA and wRC+. It's been the toughest road the Indians' pitchers could've possibly faced this postseason. Among playoff teams, Cleveland's three opponents are the top three offenses in wOBA.
The Tribe has reduced them to rubble.
Cleveland's overall statline from these playoffs is comical. They've allowed a mere 18 earned runs in 98 innings for an ERA of 1.65. Hitters own a .205/.266/.307 batting line against the Indians, and Cleveland has fanned 112 hitters to just 30 walks.
Corey Kluber is having an incredible postseason, leading the way for the Indians' starters.
|Blue Jays||6 1/3||0||6||6||2|
It's easy to forget it when looking at these video-game numbers, but this is a friendly reminder that Boston, Toronto and the Cubs made a living by destroying pitchers this season. They can rake. Shoot, half the runs Kluber has allowed in October came on a solo dinger by Josh Donaldson, and these are just the box-score numbers. Kluber's advanced stats this postseason -- namely a 2.85 SIERA and 30.2% strikeout rate -- are just as lovely.
Cleveland's other "ace" has been all-world reliever Andrew Miller, who, quite simply, has been a cheat code. Being used the way an elite reliever should be used (kudos, Terry Francona), Miller has struck out 37 hitters in 23 1/3 innings, giving up zero earned runs -- yep, none -- while allowing a total of 14 baserunners (8 hits, 5 walks and 1 hit by pitch). Amazingly, his 44.1% strikeout rate from the regular season is lower than his 49.1% clip from the playoffs. These numbers look like typos; they're not.
Not Just a Two-Man Show
But it would be sloppy and lazy to give Kluber and Miller all the credit. Starters Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin have upped their games in the postseason while Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen have thrown smoke out of the bullpen.
Tomlin and Bauer were quality back-of-the-rotation arms, but they've been asked to do more when Carrasco and Salazar went down. And they've delivered, especially in October.
|Bauer Regular Season||4.22||20.7%|
|Tomlin Regular Season||4.24||16.3%|
Tomlin did about as well as Cleveland could've hoped for in Game 3. On a historic night at Wrigley Field, one where the wind was blowing out, Tomlin blanked the Cubs over 4 2/3 innings, allowing just 2 hits and 1 walk. Over the final 4 1/3 innings, the bullpen gave up 3 hits while fanning 7 and walking none.
Tomlin got the first 14 outs, and the bullpen recorded the final 13 outs. It was a plan the Indians have used frequently in these playoffs -- try to get five good innings from the starter and then let the 'pen go to work.
Allen's dominance at the end of games has made it easier for Francona to deploy Miller whenever he deems necessary in the middle innings. Allen is a perfect 6 for 6 in save chances, striking out 19 and allowing 1 unearned run in 10 1/3 innings. Allen hasn't been Miller -- because Miller is an alien -- but he's been really darn good.
After winning the pivotal Game 3, Cleveland is now the favorite to take home the title, with our projections giving them a 59.21% chance of winning the series.
In theory, all they have to do is win Kluber's two starts -- in Game 4 and Game 7 -- and the crown is theirs. It's never that easy, of course. This is baseball. Better yet, this is playoff baseball, where crazy things happen in small sample sizes and everything is magnified.
But Cleveland's pitching has just done about everything it could do to put the Indians in position to win their first World Series since 1948.