The Cleveland Indians are headed to the World Series, but more importantly, they have plenty of time to rest before the first pitch is thrown.
To the victors go the spoils. For the Cleveland Indians, that means six days off before the beginning of the World Series, and there may never have been a team more in need of it.
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The Tribe defeated the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Championship Series to win the pennant in five games, while Wednesday night’s Chicago Cubs’ 10-2 drubbing of the Los Angeles Dodgers means the series in the senior circuit will be played at least through Saturday. Punching its ticket early now allows Cleveland to wait for its opponent and allow its players to rest, recuperate, and rehab.
This all starts with the much-maligned pitching staff, a crop of arms that was given little chance by the experts to win the day but has turned in three shutouts and held two of the most powerful offensive clubs in baseball to just 15 runs in eight games.
Staff ace Corey Kluber pitched Game Four of the ALCS in Toronto on three days’ rest, the first time in his career he had done so. Kluber’s 18.1 innings of work thus far in the postseason account for a full quarter of the innings the Indians have pitched, and he’s the surefire choice to be on the bump when the Fall Classic gets started.
In the bullpen, Bryan Shaw has appeared in seven of the Tribe’s eight games, and both Andrew Miller and Cody Allen in six. That trio, which has been so thoroughly dominant, has combined to throw 25 playoff innings, more than 35 percent of those played.
Miller’s 11.2 innings of work out of the pen are second on the team to Kluber, as he tossed multiple innings in every appearance, dominating to the tune of 21 strikeouts to just two walks in earning series MVP honors.
The extra time off also gives Cleveland a chance to answer two burning questions that will greatly impact the World Series roster and starting rotation. The first is whether or not Trevor Bauer’s right pinky laceration will be sufficiently healed for him to be able to throw more than 0.2 innings before gushing blood all over the mound, as it did in Game Three against the Jays.
Second is the question of Danny Salazar. The right-hander has been out since September 9th with a forearm strain in his pitching arm, but has been rehabbing for the past several weeks, first at the Indians’ player development complex in Goodyear, Arizona and then with the team in Toronto.
Rumors swirled before both the division series with Boston and the LCS with the Jays that the 26-year old could make the roster as a bullpen arm, but in both instances, he was not ready. Having a relatively healthy Salazar would boost the bullpen’s depth and give manager Terry Francona yet another weapon to shorten games.
The pitching staff is the most obvious aspect of the club that the time off will help, but the Indians’ bats could use the time as well. After putting together a healthy .271/.317/.458 team slash line against the Red Sox, Tribe hitters were handcuffed by the Blue Jays, slashing a woeful .168/.215/.329 in the five games and scoring just 12 runs. Only Francisco Lindor and Lonnie Chisenhall had more than three hits in the series.
Second baseman Jason Kipnis, who himself went 1-for-19 in the series, spoke after the game with SportsTime Ohio’s Andre Knott about the time off being an opportunity for the club’s hitters to “work out some things,” and that’s certainly needed.
The Tribe has gotten to this point despite the odds being stacked against them, and now with six days off, must contend with the dreaded “World Series layoff curse.” Of the 16 teams that have had to sit for five or more days after winning the pennant, only half have gone on to claim the championship. That includes last year’s New York Mets and 2014’s Kansas City Royals.
But Cleveland is not those teams, and the layoff should be of tremendous benefit. After a season that began in mid-February among the cacti, the Indians are just four wins away from the ultimate prize in baseball. A breather before getting back to work can’t possibly be a bad thing.