When Andrew Miller and Cody Allen round out the backend of your bullpen, you’d think adding a reliever would be the last thing on your do-to list. However, for the Cleveland Indians, the opposite is the norm. And without multiple trades to address the crisis, they won’t stand a chance in the postseason.
The Indians got off to a slow start this season. Beginning the year 17-18, they were struggling to hold their own and play like the powerhouse ballclub many have become accustomed to over the last two years. With that said, they were still in first place in the American League Central during that rough patch based on the little to no competition that has been thrown their way within the division. But a recurring issue throughout this season for manager Terry Francona and the Indians has been their bullpen’s incompetence.
Last season, the Indians bullpen was an enormous asset. They recorded the best team ERA in baseball (2.89), saw Miller and Allen fire on all cylinders, and rounded out a superb pitching staff. One year later, they own the worst bullpen ERA in the game (5.82) and continue to blow games ruining great outings from their starting rotation — which has been electric. Corey Kluber is executing at a Cy Young Award level once more, Trevor Bauer is pitching the best baseball of his career, and Mike Clevinger has come into his own as a reliable top-of-the-rotation arm.
Sure, losing Joe Smith and Bryan Shaw took away some of their bullpen’s depth, but for this team to struggle at the rate they are currently is jarring; they literally went from first to worst. Miller has been unreliable in any role he’s been assigned. Currently owning a 4.40 ERA and an abysmal 1.60 WHIP, he’s been anything but the elite reliever of old. To make matters worse, the lefty continues to be harmed by the injury bug. Suffering a left hamstring strain and currently on the disabled list with right knee inflammation, the 6-foot-7 reliever has been unable to remain healthy, and it’s probably a big reason for why he’s struggling in 2018. As for the rest of the Indians bullpen, it’s hard to pinpoint why exactly they’re struggling at the overwhelming rate which they are.With the worst bullpen ERA in the bigs., the @Indians have to make a trade for a reliever or two to have any chance in the postseason.Click To Tweet
Lefty Tyler Olson (who didn’t surrender a single run in 30 appearances last season) owns a 6.19 ERA; righties Dan Otero and Zach McAllister own ERAs of 6.65 and 6.17. And while he’s blown just one save this season, Allen still owns a 4.18 ERA — which is far from stellar. Like Miller, Allen will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2018 season, and based on the way he’s performed this season, his chances of cashing in on a deal in the range of the ones that Aroldis Chapman (five-year, $86 million deal) and Wade Davis (three-year, $52 million deal) received are gradually vanishing. In a potential elimination game or playoff game in general, how confident can Francona be in handing the ball over to anybody in his pen given where things stand?
The Indians offense features a number of high-octane bats. Whether it be Michael Brantley, Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Edwin Encarnacion, or Yonder Alonso, this team makes for one of the most feared orders in the game. Their starting rotation is also amongst the elite, and for those facets of the Indians ballclub to potentially be wasted would be a shame.
So, who could the Indians acquire to help bolster their pen? While there reportedly aren’t a lot of top-flight relievers on the trade block (for now), some proven commodities do appear poised to get moved, one of them being Kansas City Royals closer Kelvin Herrera. The righty has surrendered just two runs in 26 appearances, owns a 0.73 WHIP, and has recorded 14-of-15 save opportunities. San Diego Padres lefty Brad Hand will likely be a sought-after reliever too as the trade deadline approaches. If Cleveland decides to pony up the prospects necessary to make a deal, Hand could help get their pen back on track. Another option could be to get creative and acquire a veteran starter such as Tyson Ross and place him in the pen and/or move righty Josh Tomlin back into the starting rotation — who has seen time as a starter and reliever this season.
When you look around the American League, the most prominent teams (excluding the Indians) have little to no flaws. The New York Yankees lineup is firing on all cylinders, they’re getting viable outings from their starters, and their bullpen holds its own. The Boston Red Sox have arguably the best lineup in the game, the best pitcher in the American League East in Chris Sale, and a potent bullpen. The Houston Astros have one of the youngest and most intriguing young cores in the game, the best starting rotation in the game, and a serviceable bullpen. The Seattle Mariners, who are in first place in the American League West, have no glaring weakness.
The Indians, meanwhile, do have a flaw, and it’s their bullpen. And while regular season matchups don’t determine postseason verdicts, the Indians are 0-3 versus the Yankees, 2-5 versus the Mariners, 3-4 versus the Astros, and 2-4 versus the divisional rival Minnesota Twins; it’s not encouraging for Francona and friends that the Indians can’t beat teams who are supposedly on their level in the American League, no matter the four-game lead they have in their division.
The Indians are one of the most talented teams in baseball, but their bullpen will prevent them from competing in the World Series in the narrow window they have if trades or roster shakeups are not made.