At one point early in the season, Cleveland’s bullpen was viewed as a major question mark, but the relief corps has evolved into perhaps the best in baseball over the course of the past two months.
The acquisition of Andrew Miller was arguably the biggest move made by any contender at the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline, and put the Indians bullpen into position to be a weapon at Francona’s disposal. In the second half of the season, the team’s relievers held the opposition to just a .228/.293/.375 slash line and an OPS+ of 88, with 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings and a 3.16-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
“I think the way the bullpen has kind of come together and been used in the course of the last six weeks really had a playoff-type environment to it, or feel to it,” president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said during Tuesday’s workout at Progressive Field. “So, I think our guys are really prepared going into the postseason and positioned to be successful.”
The quartet of Cody Allen, Dan Otero, Bryan Shaw, and Miller have been especially lethal, and give the Tribe a way to shorten games. Here’s how they pitched in the second half:
- Otero: 1.78 ERA, .193/.207/.277 opponent slash line, 31 opponent OPS+
- Shaw: 2.32 ERA, .218/.298/.282 opponent slash line, 61 opponent OPS+
- Miller: 1.55 ERA, .139/.155/.277 opponent slash line, 15 opponent OPS+
- Allen: 2.15 ERA, .146/.217/.281 opponent slash line, 36 opponent OPS+
If Cleveland’s starters are able to last five innings with a lead or keeping the game close, it is highly likely that all four will see the mound, as the days off built into the series schedule allow for adequate rest. It’s the same blueprint the Kansas City Royals used in making it to the World Series the past two seasons, and the Tribe’s arms may be even better.
“You have to recognize that going in, that there’s no reason to not pitch a guy, even if you’re down a couple, when you have a day off the next day,” Francona said.
Given Boston’s potent offensive attack, the Indians’ bullpen may be the biggest key to the entire series. Francona has shown a willingness to eschew traditional relief pitcher usage in favor of using his best arms in the most critical situations, and that strategy will be put to the test against the Red Sox.
“You want to leverage certain guys in your bullpen, that’s for sure,” Francona said. “And we will do that to the best of our ability. You don’t want to get in the way of a starter. But you don’t want to go too long. In a short series, that’s challenging. That’s one of the challenging things.”