Did anyone pick Cleveland to win the World Series? How about after we learned Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar would miss the postseason? Given the depleted rotation and the ALDS matchup against the Red Sox, things did not look great. The hot bats of Toronto posed the same challenge in the ALCS. No problem — the Indians won seven out of eight games against these powerful lineups. With the roster firing on all cylinders, Cleveland’s ready to win its first World Series since 1948.
Call it “mojo” or “aura” if you like. Perhaps the most surprising part of the Indians steamrolling the Red Sox in three games was the club’s collective confidence. Whether knocking around Cy Young candidate Rick Porcello or shutting down David Ortiz, Tribe players looked cool as could be. By the time it got around to starting the unknown Ryan Merritt to clinch the ALCS in Toronto, you expected he would twirl a gem in his second career appearance. But mojo alone doesn’t win you a title. Here’s why Indians fans should prepare to celebrate a championship in 2016.
Cleveland dominated Boston in several aspects of the game, but the difference in clutch hitting was enormous. Red Sox hitters went 3-for-21 (.143) with runners in scoring position (RISP) and left 28 men on base (Ortiz stranded seven). On the other side, Indians batters went 7-for-16 (.438) and stranded 31. This clutch showing won the Tribe the ALDS.
While Boston led the AL in both batting average (.282) and average with RISP (.283) during the regular season, Cleveland hitters maintained a more balanced attack in the postseason. Eight different Indians players produced RBI, with Lonnie Chisenhall leading the way with four. Unlikely contributions from players like Roberto Perez and Brandon Guyer were huge.
Toronto pitchers were much more effective than Boston starters and held Indians hitters down most of the ALCS. But Cleveland took a different tack by turning to the long-ball, hitting six home runs, each of which was a back-breaker for the opposition. The menacing Blue Jays lineup only hit two out of the park, and Cleveland only started two members of its rotation the entire series.
The return of Corey Kluber
One Cleveland advantage in this series was Corey Kluber, a legitimate ace and the main competition for Porcello in the Cy Young race. The only question was whether or not he was healthy. Turns out he is. Following Terry Francona’s heavy use of the bullpen in Game 1, the club needed a long outing. Kluber delivered a gem, allowing just 3 H and 3 BB (0 ER) with 7 SO in 7.0 IP for the Game 2 victory.
The Klubot followed it up with two more excellent starts in the ALCS, throwing 11.1 IP with 13 SO and just 2 ER allowed. When the Fall Classic begins, he’ll be fully rested and ready to throw at least two games (probably three). He’ll swing the World Series in Cleveland’s direction, too.
Andrew Miller and the pen
Cleveland coveted reliever Andrew Miller at the trade deadline, and he is pitching like he was worth management’s considerable investment (and then some). In Games 1 and 3 of the ALDS, he threw four scoreless innings (7 SO) to bridge the back end of the bullpen.
In the ALCS, he followed it up by throwing 7.2 IP of scoreless baseball (14 SO), which was good enough for Miller to earn himself the series MVP award. The tall left-hander is by far the most valuable commodity in any bullpen on any postseason team, and Francona will continue wielding him as such in the World Series.
Closer Cody Allen gave Tribe fans heart palpitations in the ALDS, but he came back with a perfect ALCS (4 G, 3 SV, 0 ER, 7 SO in 4.2 IP). Ideally, Indians starters would give Francona more innings, but with so many injuries in the rotation Miller and Allen proved they are ready for six outs or more with the game on the line. Bryan Shaw, who’s appeared in seven games already this postseason and notched two ALCS wins, is another major force out of the pen.
Collective Cleveland swagger
In what was a surprise to fans and writers, Boston hitters from Jackie Bradley (.100, 7 SO) to Dustin Pedroia (.167, 5 SO) and David Ortiz (.111, 7 LOB) were overmatched in the ALDS. Porcello (0-1, 10.38 ERA) and David Price (0-1, 13.50 ERA) fared no better under the bright lights of the postseason. Cleveland’s far-lower-profile batters and starters performed at a high level.
The dynamic shifted in the ALCS, but the results were the same. Toronto’s home-run power was absent; Cleveland’s emerged at just the right time. We’re not sure what was the biggest achievement for Indians pitchers — the 8.1 IP out of the bullpen to beat Marcus Stroman in Game 3 or Merritt out-pitching Marco Estrada in Game 5. They don’t have household names, but these guys show up for work and make superstars seem mortal. (Insert Ohio-appropriate, blue-collar sports cliche here.)
Whether trouncing the Red Sox or pressing the mute button on the loud, always-antagonizing Jays, this Tribe team plays like a seasoned bunch even though it has little playoff experience. There’s even a little magic going on with the start by Merritt and the extraordinary play of the forgotten Coco Crisp. With Boston and Toronto out of the way, the path to the first Cleveland Indians World Series title in nearly 70 years is wide open.
Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com
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