It’s human nature — well, it’s the nature of this human, and maybe one or two others — to seek to ascribe greater meaning to the events of every baseball postseason. Full disclosure: Sometimes there aren’t any. This time a year ago, we were all agog over the Royals Method, even as it seemed clear that much of what was working for Kansas City mightn’t work anywhere else.
This year’s temptation is to point to Terry Francona — if you wonder why everyone calls him “Tito,” it’s because his dad, the former player (and former Brave), was Tito Francona; in baseball, that’s enough to constitute a Quality Nickname — and his ground-breaking bullpen usage as a New Paradigm. The trouble with that is that Tito has Andrew Miller and nobody else does, thereby rendering the paradigm more of a one-off.
It was said of Joe Torre’s Yankees that they played a six-inning game: They got the lead and turned it over to the bullpen of Nelson/Stanton/Lloyd/Mendoza and finally Wetteland/Rivera. Tito’s Indians are playing four-inning games. In these playoffs, the matchless Miller has been summoned in the fifth, sixth, seventh, seventh, eighth and sixth innings.
(He has one postseason save but was named MVP of the ALCS, prompting the sabermetric set to do a happy dance. The numbers folks have long held that the best reliever should be deployed at the time of greatest need, as opposed to the ninth inning every blessed game. And here, by golly, is a manager who’s actually doing it.)
That said: If no other team has a Miller, not many have a Cody Allen, who’s technically the Cleveland closer and who himself can work more than an inning. Knowing he has Allen for later has enabled Tito to use Miller earlier and earlier, which was the idea when the Tribe traded for Miller at the deadline. The Indians had their eyes on an October prize all along. This is a smart organization that has done its work without great fanfare.
Not everything in baseball has a Braves’ connection, but with the re-upping of closer Jim Johnson we can envision a similar dynamic, at least in theory. In their bullpen, the Braves now have a closer in Johnson, a guy who has closed in Arodys Vizcaino, a guy who throws hard enough to close in Mauricio Cabrera, a set-up lefty in Ian Krol and a set-up righty in Jose Ramirez. All are under club control for at least two more seasons.
Do they have an Andrew Miller? No. (We say again: There’s only one of him.) But the notion of having a bullpen with options, as opposed to one set in its “roles,” is kind of a thing in baseball circles. The Braves believe they have the makings of that.
One thing more: The Indians’ final two victories over Toronto came in games that saw one starting pitcher (Trevor Bauer, famous now for his bloody finger and his drone) throw two pitches and another (Ryan Merritt, a 24-year-old rookie) make his second career start. Cleveland’s second- and third-best starters — Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar — had been lost to injury, which led many among us to deem the team with the American League’s second-best record a playoff no-hoper. But there’s a reason every team tries to stockpile arms. You really can’t have too many.
Oh, and one other thing more: It never hurts to have a shortstop. Francisco Lindor was the eighth player drafted in 2011, and for all the splendid young shortstops in baseball — Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, Addison Russell — Lindor might well be the best. He’s 22. Not saying Dansby Swanson, the 1-1 pick of the 2015 draft, will be as good as Lindor, but he’s not bad. He’s 22, too.