I fully plan on having things to say about the American League Championship Series. It’s a big moment for the Indians, some nine years in the making. And the Blue Jays are such an interesting opponent, it’s hard not to delve into what they are, and what makes them tick. But give me a few days.
Monday was fun, let’s not act like the athletes and focus hell-bent on what is coming. Let’s bask for one more moment in this point in time, where the Indians are better than the Boston Red Sox, and that’s all that matters. It was a fun series, and I have at least a few things to talk about.
Cody Allen, Trevor Bauer, and incredible pitching
I don’t know what to make of Cody Allen. I know, both statistically and from watching him perform for several years, that he is a good relief pitcher. He throws hard and has a dirty curveball, and has a 2.52 ERA, 2.73 FIP and struck out 33.4 percent of batters over the last three years. He is good at his job. But I almost feel like he’s trying to teach viewers a lesson. He makes everything so hard on himself, and that seems to be what he’s trying to impart on us. Basically, his pitching philosophy is, nothing you want can come easy. He plays life on Hard Mode. On Monday night, it wasn’t exciting that he locked down the save. It was relieving. Which isn’t supposed to be the feeling you should have. Maybe it’s because this whole situation just isn’t normal for the Indians, so the fans are just now learning the secret stresses Yankees fans Rivera gave them when he was seemingly effortless in October.
You have to wonder how long this can last for Allen, this getting into a hairy situation he has to work out of. He’s good at it, and certainly experienced. This past year he allowed two or more hits in an appearance 11 times, and only two of those appearances were multi-inning. He allowed runs only four of those times, and still got the save in one of those situations. This doesn’t mean it’s okay to allow hits. The ideal we strive for is constant clean innings. But that's not realistic. We need a definition of lockdown that's tenable to real life, not what we dream for. With Andrew Miller being the roving relief ace, how okay should Allen’s allowing some baserunners be? You'd think we'd be used to it, and anyway it’s going to happen. Miller does it too, he’s allowed baserunners pretty much every appearance he’s had in October. Even if the ninth inning isn’t really any harder, maybe it’s how we see and value each and every pitch, and that devilish recency bias?
Of course, watching what the Giants have had to go through the entire second half, and especially Tuesday night, the perception of lock-down sure has its varied definition. Which is a long way of saying, you could do a lot worse. When a manager has nobody to trust, you blow games that are all but won. Allen did comport himself well considering his opponent. Any fan would want an immaculate inning, three quick grounders to short. But that's not baseball, especially not in October. I have every belief that if Bochy had Allen to go to there, the Giants would be headed to Game 5 in Chicago. That's what makes the Indians so lucky. It's not going to get any easier, the Blue Jays love to hit the ball a long way. But Allen can handle it.
I think the worst thing about the series though, was I was robbed Bauer’s second series appearance. I am firm in my unfounded belief that Trevor Bauer is going to be dominant in the second of two starts against a team in the postseason. He was good, or at least good enough, in his one outing against Boston, and did what he had to. He has to do that again against the Blue Jays, hopefully earn another four or five outs ideally. I just want to see if anything at all will be different in his approach when he gets to face the same lineup later that week, Do I hold his tinkering and sometime overthinking in perhaps too high regard? Without a doubt. But I like a thinking man’s approach to the game, and I want to see if Bauer can do something truly special.
The Indians shut down David Ortiz
Finally, I wrote before the series about managing David Ortiz, making sure he wouldn’t be the one to hurt the Indians. Whether or not this was central to the Tribe's scouting and planning ahead of the series, he hit .111/.250/.222 in 12 plate appearances. Or, more precisely, he had one hit, and walked twice. And they worked him over quite well. Here’s his strike zone for 2016 for what he hit in each sector of the zone:
And here’s what the Indians did to him in the ALDS:
Obviously, throwing it where he doesn’t hit it is the natural goal of any pitcher. But it’s one thing to plan it, it’s another to execute it. Between great performances from three starters and the right levers being pulled by Francona, they effectively removed Ortiz from consideration in the series. It's masterful planning, masterful pitching and perfect stabbing at the heart of a team. This was supposed to be a farewell season, and the Indians did their duty to show him the door quickly.
So yeah, the Indians won. Somehow, some way, they navigated the terror of the Red Sox and their October luck and get to keep going. It could be we get to see what Bauer does the second time around this next series, barring a quick sweep. We’ll certainly experience the world of Cody Allen. And there’s more power to be cancelled out in Toronto. It’s going to be a good time. We'll have to watch to see how the brain trust decides to manage this one.