Cleveland Indians Bullpen May Become Focal Point of ALCS

After needing only three games to take out the American League favorite Boston Red Sox, the Cleveland Indians bullpen may become a focal point of their upcoming series with the Toronto Blue Jays.

It is being reported that Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona does not expect Danny Salazar to be ready in time to make the ALCS roster, which will put more of a burden on the Cleveland bullpen. Andrew Miller‘s usage in the ALDS hit the national audience for the first time, as the lefty reliever made appearances in the fifth and sixth innings, going two frames each time out.

Miller is one of the best relievers in baseball, and having a weapon like that available, not only with his effectiveness, but his willingness to help the team whenever it is deemed necessary, is not an advantage that most teams have. In 23 of the 26 games that Miller was used out of the Cleveland bullpen during the regular season, the team came away with the win.

During the regular season Cleveland took four of seven from Toronto, and the way these two teams are built may play a big role in how the series plays out. Toronto is thought of as the better offensive team, but it was the Indians that outscored the Jays during the regular season. Toronto ranked fourth in baseball in home runs (221), while Cleveland ranked 18th with 185. While the long ball can change a series, the layoff that both teams have had could play a bit of a role in affecting Toronto’s timing, which is important for mashing home runs.

After going into the All-Star break as winners of eight of nine, the Jays came out of the break by dropping two to the A’s. The offense produced, but the Oakland rotation isn’t quite up to par with that of Cleveland.

The Indians are thought of as the team with the better pitching staff, but Toronto edged them out in team ERA at 3.78 to 3.84. Cleveland’s bullpen was better by far, posting an ERA of 3.45 (4th in baseball) to Toronto’s 4.11 (22nd).

That means that the Cleveland starters will have to produce just enough to bridge the gap to Miller, Cody Allen and Dan Otero in the bullpen, which would give Cleveland their best opportunity at a win.

And here is where things get interesting. All three of those relievers have had varying success against some of the Blue Jays top hitters. In looking at their career numbers, Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, Troy Tulowitzki and Melvin Upton Jr. (give it a second) have combined to hit roughly .300 against all three of these relievers.

Against Miller, the quintet has combined to go 11-for-37 (.297) with six home runs. Three of those homers have come off the bat of Upton, who is 5-for-12 against Miller with Encarnacion blasting two in ten at-bats and the other from Joey Bats.

Against Otero the five-some is 5-for-15 (.333) with Josh Donaldson doing the damage with the long ball twice.

Closer Cody Allen hasn’t been taken deep by these players, but they are hitting .286 (4-for-14) against him and Russell Martin has a dinger.

That right there shows just how deep the Blue Jays lineup is, and the struggle that Terry Francona will have on a nightly basis to find the right time to bring in each of these three relievers. Zach McAllister and Bryan Shaw may see some big opportunities in this series to help get the bullpen to the end of the game. Shaw has had his own success against a number of the Jays bats and could be called on when the team needs a strikeout (9.32 K/9) or a ground ball (53.7% GB rate), while McAllister is likely more of a strikeout guy late in the game with a K per nine rate of 9.30.

The Cleveland Indians bullpen will ultimately be what makes or breaks their postseason with all of the injuries to their starting rotation, and they’ll have their work cut out for them against a power-heavy Blue Jays lineup.

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