In the 2016 post-season, Andrew Miller has pitched in 9 of Cleveland’s 13 games, posting a 0.53 ERA.
(Photo courtesy of Erik Drost)
Talk about foresight on the part of the management teams for both the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs when it comes to understanding the importance of having high-end talent in the bullpen come the post-season. The addition of Andrew Miller in Cleveland and Aroldis Chapman in Chicago has been so instrumental to the success these teams have experienced in the 2016 playoffs, that not in their wildest dreams could either club have ever imagined these players having such an impact. The fact that Miller and Chapman were both acquired from the Yankees makes this particular battle of bullpens that much more intriguing.
In the ALDS against the Red Sox, when Terry Francona began to use Miller with greater regularity and for longer stretches than what you’d normally see throughout the regular season, it was something that hadn’t been done in quite some time, at least not to this extreme. Although unusual to see, Francona’s use of Miller is nothing new to baseball. Take for example Francisco Rodriguez, who in 2002 with the World Series champion Anaheim Angels, was also used (much like Miller) to bridge the gap between their starting pitchers and lights out closer Troy Percival. So why is it that more teams aren’t implementing this sort of strategy with their bullpen come the post-season? Well for starters not many teams have a reliever like Andrew Miller or Francisco Rodriguez who have the freakish ability to pitch at their highest level (or at least close to it) for multiple innings per appearance in three straight games of the same playoff series.
To make things even more interesting regarding the way the bullpens have been used in the World Series is that Cubs manager Joe Maddon is now beginning to stretch out his top reliever, Aroldis Chapman, making this series a battle of Miller vs Chapman almost as much as it is a battle of the Indians vs Cubs. It goes to show how quick Maddon is to adapt, because in Game 5 on Sunday, with the Cubs in a do-or-die game to extend the series and their miracle season, Maddon brought in Chapman with one out in the 7th inning, and kept him in until he finished the game eight long outs later. By using Chapman in such a way, Maddon was sending a message to Cleveland that implied, “if you want to take the lead back against my bullpen, you’re going to be forced to do so against my top reliever and no one else”. Maddon was perhaps also sending a personal message to Francona, and that is anything you can do with Miller, I can do just as well with Chapman. Essentially what Maddon did was use Francona’s own strategy against him..and for at least one game, that approach worked for the Cubs.
Not only has the 2016 World Series become a personal duel of bullpens between Francona and Maddon, but after all the success Miller experienced in games 1, 3, and 4, you have to bet that Chapman had taken that as a personal challenge to see what he can do if given a similar level of responsibility to Miller. Cleveland reliever Bryan Shaw when asked about the increased workload on Miller during the post-season said to do this sort of thing for an entire regular season would be impossible and that a pitcher would burn out by July if they were used in such a way. With only one, possibly two games remaining in the season, the chances of Miller wearing down now aren’t likely, but what Chicago does have going for them is that they’ve seen so much of Miller in this series that they should be able to use that to their advantage and finally get to the seemingly untouchable reliever and make Cleveland pay for going to their golden boy one time too many.