Let’s imagine you were a baseball traditionalist and were dealt this poker hand: The 2 of hearts, the 2 of spades, the 3 of diamonds, the 3 of clubs and the ace of hearts.
As a traditionalist wouldn’t we expect you to throw away the 2s or 3s and hope to draw another ace. In the traditional world, nobody wins without at least two aces.
That’s why so many “experts” had high praise for the Indians coming into this season and then expressed grave doubts as they entered the playoffs. Surely solid teams like Boston, Toronto or Texas will throttle the Indians with their superior starters, they professed. What a shame that Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco are injured.
They are ignoring the value of a full house of solid relievers. The Indians still have reason to hope their bullpen of lesser-known stars can rule the final and most important innings in the playoffs.
With the Blue Jays in the ALCS, Tribe batters can look forward to one of the worst bullpens in baseball – The worst in terms win-loss percentage with a reliever on the mound (20-33 .418%).
The Toronto bullpen ranked 22nd in the majors with a 4.22 ERA, 19th in on-base average allowed and 24th in strikeouts with 474. The Blue Jays’ 43 saves tied for 13th place with four other teams. It’s not surprising that Toronto has two green, unheralded and low-achieving relievers on the ALCS roster.
Call it luck, call it clutch performances or even sound placement of the right players when games were on the line, but you cannot be sure outlying results like this can carry into the playoffs.
Playoff games tend to include shorter starts, tighter games and lower scores. Even the aces (Madison Bumgarner is the notable modern-day exception) rarely go the distance. The game is likely to be on the line with a reliever on the mound, not that rich and famous ace. It also might not be a save situation when you need your best, just ask Buck Showwalter or Zach Britton!
So as we look forward the League Championship Series, our attention should be on the pitchers who will be on the mound when the games are on the line.
Roberto Osuna (R): 74 innings, 36 saves in 72 appearances for a 2.68 ERA. Clearly a strikeout pitcher *82), the three positions most likely to field batted balls when he’s on the mound are center, left and right fields. He allowed nine home runs. He’s only 21 years old.
Joe Biagini (R): 69 hits in 67 innings over 50 appearances for 3.06 ERA. His WHIP is fairly high at 1.3. He finished a dozen games but only got one save.
Danny Barnes (R): 14 hits in 13.2 innings, 3.95 ERA. A rookie righthander, he started in AA and was excellent over 41 innings. 1.01 at New Hampshire of the Eastern League and 0.35 at AAA Buffalo. He turns 27 next week and has not had a distinguished minor-league career. Obviously, the Blue Jays are going with the “hot hand”, which history has shown can be effective.
Ryan Tepera (R): He had 18 innings, 17 hits and eight walks in 20 appearances for a 2.95 ERA. Obviously another low-innings gamble, he was a 19th-round pick in 2009 and took until last year to make the majors (3.37 in 33 IPs). He ended the season with five scoreless appearances.
Jason Grilli (R): He had four blown saves and 10 home runs (two while with the Braves earlier in the season). His ERA over 42 innings with Toronto was 3.64 but his FIP was 4.29. Five of his last six regular-season appearances were for less than one inning.
Brett Cecil (L): Sure, won/loss records are misleading, but 1-7 has to mean something when you are a relief pitcher. Cecil only got 36 innings in 54 appearances.
Indians fans should hope they get a chance to see Aaron Loup (5.02) and Scott Feldman (8.04). Their presence on the postseason roster is an indication of the lack of depth.
Roster can be revised at the beginning of each series. If the Rangers win it would be because they got to Game 5. That might mean a fresh pitcher will be summoned from their 40-man roster.
The Indians will have home-field advantage in the ALCS and the World Series if they get there.
Cecil is the only lefty in the bullpen to matchup with the Indians’ lefties and switch hitters.