With the ALDS starting on Friday afternoon between the Cleveland Indians and Houston Astros, it’s an important time to see how the teams matchup. While every aspect of the game is important to the success of a team, when the playoffs roll around there is extra stress put on the bullpens to be as close to perfect as can be. Besides spending time in this article discussing the Indians bullpen, we will take a look at the Astros bullpen and possible opportunities that the Indians can take advantage of.
The playoff bullpen for the Indians consists of left-handed pitchers, Andrew Miller, Brad Hand and Oliver Perez as well as right-handed pitchers Cody Allen, Adam Cimber and Dan Otero. Additionally, regular season starters Trevor Bauer and Shane Bieber are on the playoff roster and are expected to see some time from the bullpen. Many of these pitchers have dealt with some adversity this season, whether it be injuries to players like Miller and Bauer or ineffectiveness by players like Allen and Otero. However, now, at the precipice of the playoffs, everyone’s on an even playing field, no more high ERA from the regular season, no high opposing batting average and no blown saves.
Looking at factors that are in the Indians favor, they have three pitchers, Miller, Allen and Hand who have all had success at points in their careers closing games. Manager Terry Francona can use these three as he sees fit earlier in the game. If you remember, in 2016, that was when Francona used Miller for multiple innings starting in the middle of the 5th inning and revolutionized the way bullpens were used.
Another advantage is that there are numerous lefties in the bullpen in contrast to the Astros who only have one lefty in their bullpen. Having Miller, Hand and Perez will allow Francona to bring in one of these pitchers early in the game to get a tough left-handed batter out and still have two lefties for later use in the game.
While many fans may not like the early start times for these games because they need to be in school or at work, it may be a good option for these pitchers as many of them have a lower ERA in day games than in night games. Additionally, looking at their season splits, Dan Otero and Adam Cimber have significantly lower ERAs in September than they had in earlier months, hopefully, that will continue into the playoffs.
As for Bauer and Bieber, they will likely be seen out of the bullpen for entirely different reasons. Bauer recently came off the DL and is still getting back to himself, pitching in a reduced role in the playoffs should be helpful to him having a full recovery. It is quite strange to have a 200+ strikeout pitcher come out of the bullpen, but when four of your starters accomplish that feat, it becomes more important to look at Bauer’s long-term health.
Bieber had a nice rookie campaign for the Indians. His 9.26 strikeout per nine innings and 5.13 strikeout to walk ratios are quite impressive. In 114.2 innings, he only surrendered 23 walks. During the playoffs, it is important to keep hitters off the bases and surrendering a small number of walks is a big advantage.
The Astros playoff bullpen consists of lefty Tony Sipp and righties Robert Osuna, Lance McCullers, Ryan Pressly, Will Harris, Josh James and Collin McHugh. Interestingly, former Indians reliever Joe Smith did not make the playoff roster. When the Indians were going through their bullpen woes, many were bemoaning the fact that the front-office let Smith walk in free agency. Clearly, it was the right move, but I digress.
The possibility of only one lefty coming out of the Astros bullpen is a huge advantage for the Indians, as they have multiple left-handed or switch-hitting batters. Sipp has had success against the Indians batters, but if he’s needed in a big spot in the 6th inning, Astros manager A.J. Hinch will have to make a tough decision on if it is worth using Sipp in the 6th or keep him for a possible big issue later in the game when there’s more pressure.
Of course, there is another fact to look at for both teams. They each have great starting pitching and perhaps Francona and Hinch will let their starters go the distance or at least late into the games, making the bullpen less important. Whatever happens, the Indians are in a good position with their bullpen, which is a bit shocking to say considering how it was the biggest issue during the regular season.