This is where the fun gets started, as both Cleveland and Chicago have electrifying bullpens and managers who aren’t afraid to use them. As noted, Francona’s use of his relievers in these playoffs, in particular, has garnered a great deal of attention as he’s abandoned many of the long-held, gospel truths of bullpen management.
Maddon has also shown himself flexible to be creative in using his relievers, though he has not out of necessity had to so as often as the Indians have. The Cubs certainly have the bullpen personnel to match high-leverage situations with high-intensity arms.
Taking a look at each club’s top four relief options paints a scary picture for opposing hitters:
- Cody Allen: 7.2 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 12 K, 3 BB
- Andrew Miller: 11.2 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 22 K, 2 BB
- Bryan Shaw: 5.2 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 5 K, 1 BB
- Dan Otero: 3.1 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 K, 0 BB
- Aroldis Chapman: 8 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 10 K, 4 BB
- Mike Montgomery: 9.2 IP, 10 H, 4 R, 7 K, 3 BB
- Carl Edwards: 3.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 K, 2 BB
- Pedro Strop: 3.2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 K, 1BB
Chicago seems to have the most vulnerable bullpen, having allowed 14 runs in the postseason to Cleveland’s six. But Chapman is among the greatest closers in the game, and with a late-inning lead, there aren’t many teams that will want to take the chance that they can touch him up for a score.
The Indians have leaned heavily on their relievers because of the thin starting rotation, and those guys have answered the call. Miller, the ALCS MVP, has been used anywhere from the fifth through the ninth innings, and for multiple innings, providing Francona with perhaps the dominant bullpen arm in high-leverage situations in these playoffs.
Allen, too, has been dominant, saving five of the Tribe’s seven wins and going multiple innings a few times as well. Between him and Miller, 33 of 72 batters faced have gone down via the strikeout and just one out of every five has managed to reach base. That is next-level bullpenning and could be the key to a Cleveland championship.