October: the month of the reliever


by Patrick Long

Ask any manager of a Major League Baseball club and they will tell you that the formula to winning the World Series is quality pitching. In order to even have a chance at making the postseason for today’s MLB teams, it is of the utmost importance for teams to have an ace pitcher at the top of their starting rotation and a reliable bullpen to close out games. Certainly having a lethal offense that can produce runs on any given night is a significant aspect of baseball, but pitching is what wins you close ballgames (just ask this year’s Boston Red Sox). At the end of the day, the most treasured asset for any baseball team is having a dependable pitcher that has the ability to completely shut down the opponent’s most feared sluggers. However, in recent years there has been a trend in the MLB that suggests that possessing a strong bullpen as opposed to a collection of All Star caliber starting pitchers is the more effective way to win once the playoffs start in October.

The Cleveland Indians have won the 2016 American League pennant and are on their way to the World Series behind the incredible performances of the relievers in their bullpen. Indians manager, Terry Francona, is turning to his bullpen more than ever this postseason and following a blueprint of success that has been executed by another small market AL team: the Kansas City Royals. In both the ALDS and the ALCS the Cleveland Indians absolutely dominated both the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays which both had the two most formidable offenses in baseball this season. The Red Sox led the majors all year in runs scored and the Blue Jays had six players with over 20 home runs throughout the year. The Indians on the other hand were shorthanded going into the playoffs by not having two of their front line starters available in both Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco. So as a result, Francona has unprecedentedly turned to his relievers in this year’s playoffs in the fourth and fifth innings. The star performer out of the bullpen for the Indians has been the unhittable Andrew Miller, who has yet to give up a single run over the course of six games and 11.2 innings pitched. Miller has also struck out 21 batters this postseason. With this terrific performance thus far in the playoffs, Miller has joined some elite company with Mariano Rivera, Dennis Eckersley, and Koji Uehara to become only the fourth reliever in the history of baseball to receive the MVP award in a championship series. Another top performer in the Indians bullpen has been closer Cody Allen who also has yet to give up a hit and been responsible for 5 saves. Other relievers like Bryan Shaw and Dan Otero have performed well too by executing their roles when called upon during the game.

Clearly, Terry Francona has been anything but conventional in this year’s postseason. However, it has paid off for him because his strategic use of his bullpen has earned his team a trip to the World Series. Considering the two top pitchers in this year’s postseason have been out of the bullpen in both Miller and Allen you can safely say that October truly is reliever season.