Andrew Miller was acquired just before the trade deadline for a small ransom of minor league talent. He has been one of the three best relievers in baseball for almost three consecutive seasons now, and Cleveland needed another elite reliever at the back of their bullpen.
Cleveland is now going to the World Series, despite having just
three two healthy starting pitchers, after the third sustained a slash in his finger inflicted upon him by the first combatant in the coming robot uprising. Trevor Bauer attempted to pitch on Monday night, but was forced off the mound when his wound opened up and he literally could not stop seeping blood all over the pitching mound. This doesn’t sound like a blueprint for a successful postseason team, but while Bauer’s injury necessitated an impromptu bullpen game, Cleveland easily won, despite facing the fearsome bats of the Toronto Blue Jays.
The next night, Francona gave someone named Ryan Merritt a start, an unknown to almost the entire baseball world before Tuesday. He naturally gave up only two hits over 4.1 innings before Cleveland’s bullpen once again went to work. A handful of scoreless innings later, and the American League representative for the World Series had been decided.
Cleveland’s MVP for the series was none other than Miller. Terry Francona has spent the playoffs using Miller as a sort of tactical nuke to deploy when he deems necessary. “When he deems necessary” has been early and often, neutralizing the middle of the opposing batting order and then throwing another oppressive inning before being mercifully removed. It’s often too late for the opposition at that point.
The NBA-sized lefty has now thrown 11.2 innings across eight games in this year’s postseason. Of the 41 batters he has faced, he has struck out 21 of them. Five of them have gotten hits, and two have walked. That works out to a microscopic 0.60 WHIP. That’s lower than his regular season mark, even though those eight games came against the outstanding offenses of the Boston Red Sox and the Blue Jays.
Here’s how he does it.
Miller mainly throws two pitches; an upper-90’s fastball and a slider designed to usher in the next coming of the Dark Lord Sauron. He throws them with a whipping motion from a low arm slot that makes it nigh-on impossible to pick up his pitches, both of which are top-tier. He can tackle both left-handed and right-handed batters. He can throw multiple innings, and doesn’t care if they’re the 5th and 6th or the 8th and 9th.
He is, in essence, the perfect playoff weapon. He throws strikes, and the pitches he throws for balls often look a hell of a lot like strikes when they come out of his hand. He is not a man who can be waited out, for he has massive stores of canned food and fresh water buried beneath his new post-Yankees survivalist’s beard, and he’s nearly impossible to make contact against. If you try to take pitches, he will pour in strikes at the edge of the zone. If you try to foul pitches off, you will swing and miss and look for all the world like a less talented version of Dave Kingman.
Through the left arm of Miller, and the right arms of Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen, Cleveland has overcome the conundrum of having only a barely recognizable vestige of a starting rotation. The hitting and fielding of the team has done more than its fair share to take the team to this point, as have Corey Kluber and Josh Tomlin. The team sits four wins away from its first championship since 1948.
Regardless of whether it is the Dodgers or Cubs who oppose Cleveland in Game One on Tuesday, it will be a strong offense striding to the plate. Miller’s prowess will be more important than ever. As long as the starting pitching can continue to be at least adequate, the team will live and die by him. Miller has already won the ALCS MVP. Should Cleveland emerge victorious in the World Series, he may take home another MVP award.
In the coming years, Cleveland may miss Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield. Frazier has a chance to be a top flight player, and Sheffield could end up being a fine pitcher. But if Miller leads the charge to a title, it will all be worth it.
Cleveland is just four wins away.
Nicolas Stellini is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score. He also writes for Baseball Prospectus. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets.