Potential AL Playoff preview goes exactly as it would on paper

October will be battle of bullpens, and Indians continue to lack one

Alex Hooper
July 12, 2018 - 11:40 pm
Jul 12, 2018; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber (28) talks with catcher Yan Gomes (7) in the first inning against the New York Yankees at Progressive Field.

© David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

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Cleveland, OH (92.3 The Fan) – The Cleveland Indians’ bullpen concerns have become somewhat of a dead horse in recent weeks leading up to the Trade Deadline. The American League Central leaders were beaten by the New York Yankees as such, by way of such, on Thursday.

As fan frustrations have grown while watching the relief corps implode, perhaps the most frustrating aspect has become how justifiable the concern has become.

With a near sellout at Progressive Field for a 2017 AL Division Series matchup, and those Indians fans therein who felt a sense of inadequacy because of everything that has happened since October 8, the loss played out exactly how it would have on paper.

Though neither team’s aces - two of the elite pitchers in the American League - spun gems, two playoff-caliber offenses battled it out until the bullpens took over.

The Yankees bullpen, entering the game as the best in baseball in ERA (2.72) and WAR (6.3), tossed four hitless innings, allowing just one walk. The Indians bullpen, entering as the worst in baseball in ERA (5.39), forced their manager’s hand and forced their ace to go too deep into the game.

After throwing 100 pitches through seven innings, Terry Francona sent Corey Kluber out for the 8th in a 4-4 tie with Didi Gregorius coming to the plate. The Yankee shortstop’s previous five plate appearances did not inspire confidence in the normally-unquestionable, defending Cy Young winner, going 3-for-5 with three relatively soul-crushing home runs.

Kluber walked Gregorius on four pitches before inducing a flyout from reigning National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton. Switch-hitting centerfielder Aaron Hicks proved Kluber’s undoing, lacing a double to right-center to give New York what would be their winning run, and a knockout punch to the ace.

Francona had admitted at times already this season that his bullpen’s shakiness has led him to go deeper with his starters, to the tune of 99 pitches per start, just one off of the Houston Astros for most in the league.

The skipper said it was not the case on Thursday.

“No, tonight I thought he was fine,” Francona said. “And he was at what, 100? And I thought he was throwing the ball well. There’s been some instances where I think we’ve given guys some wiggle room, but I thought he was in command of what he was doing.”

In a playoff scenario, lefty Andrew Miller would have more than likely taken the 8th and not forced Kluber to forge on through the 100-pitch mark. In a regular season without Miller in tow, Francona would not bury his relievers by admitting his unwillingness to turn to them, but his actions spoke louder.

Even with Hicks and lefty Greg Bird upcoming, the matter was not one of splits, at least not against the former. The switch-hitter holds a .972 OPS against lefties as opposed to .804 against righties.

Closer Cody Allen was an option, though even he had allowed six earned in two thirds of an inning on 30 pitches two days prior. Neil Ramirez’s three earned over one third on July 7, and five days off since, were not exactly inspiring either.

The choice then became: roll with your ace on fumes or roll the dice on any number of untrustworthy options.

That room for error, as Indians fans have heard ad nauseam, is there now. That room for error, as Indians fans have seen the last two seasons, does not exist in October, for better or worse.

Those worries, not that they need to be, were only confirmed in the most textbook of manners against a World Series contender on Thursday.

The waiting for reinforcements continues.