CLEVELAND -- Success can be fleeting for small market teams. They need cheap young players to produce in a big way to contend, and when they are in contention, these small market clubs have to balance the present with the future. Do they trade prospects for in-season updates? Or keep the kids and hope for sustained success?
The Indians, who came into 2016 with the 22nd highest payroll in baseball, faced that exact decision at the trade deadline. They were in first place in the AL Central but had some clear needs, particularly in the bullpen. Cleveland was good enough to get to October. But where they good enough to win the World Series? Apparently not, according to the brain trust.
On July 31, the day before the trade deadline, the Indians traded four prospects to the Yankees for ace reliever Andrew Miller. They paid an extraordinary price -- two top 100 prospects and two others -- but Miller is a difference-maker, someone who's value increases in the postseason thanks to the built-in off-days. We're seeing exactly that this October.
The 31-year-old Miller made his fourth appearance of the postseason in Game 2 of the ALCS on Saturday (CLE 2, TOR 1), and it was exactly like the other three. That means multiple innings and lots and lots of strikes. Here is Miller's game log this postseason:
|ALDS Game 1 vs. BOS||2||1||0||1||4|
|ALDS Game 3 @ BOS||2||1||0||1||3|
|ALCS Game 1 vs. TOR||1 2/3||1||0||0||5|
|ALCS Game 2 vs. TOR||2||0||0||0||5|
Miller's three appearances of at least 1 2/3 innings with at least four strikeouts ties the all-time single-postseason record held by 2002 Francisco Rodriguez and 1998 Dave Burba. K-Rod made 11 appearances that October as the Angels won the World Series. Burba did it as a long man who made a few lengthy mop-up appearances. Miller's team has played five games this postseason. Five.
What's made it more impressive is how manager Terry Francona has used Miller. He's brought him in specifically to face the middle of the other team's lineup. That's his role. Go get the best hitters on the other team out in close games. Miller has done it and spectacularly so. Look at how his ALCS has played out so far:
4-3 ground out
Goodness. That's video game stuff. Miller isn't the most unpredictable guy in the world. He likes to throw fastballs to his glove side and sliders to both sides of the plate. You've got a one-in-three chance of guessing right, basically. And yet, Miller overwhelms hitters and misses bats like few others.
I have been in many postseasons and hadn't seen anybody dominate like Andrew Miller.— Pedro Martinez (@45PedroMartinez) October 15, 2016
Not even the great Mariano Rivera I saw having as much success as Andrew Miller, overpowering hitters. #postseason#Miller— Pedro Martinez (@45PedroMartinez) October 15, 2016
The thing is, it's not just the strikeouts. It's the workload. Miller has yet to record fewer than five outs in an appearance this postseason. He threw 1 2/3 innings and 31 pitches in Game 1 of the ALCS on Friday, then came back to throw two innings and 24 pitches in Game 2 on Saturday. This isn't a guy who throws two innings then needs two days to recover.
"Same cliché, pitch by pitch. Just focus on the task at hand," said Miller after Game 2. "Try to get ahead, try to execute a good pitch to the game plan. In a sense hope you get these guys out. They're so good. You can execute the perfect pitch in your mind and they can hit it a long ways. But it's a fun challenge, but just try to slow down, take your breaths, and just execute as best you can. And hope it works out."
Miller and the Indians will get a well-earned off-day Sunday as the series shifts from Progressive Field to Rogers Centre. The built-in off-day means Miller will again be available in Game 3, likely for multiple innings. Miller is dominant and resilient, so extended outings are no big deal. So far this year he's been one of the greatest weapons in postseason baseball history.
"There's a reason we gave up what we did for him," said Francona on Saturday. "We thought that he could be a guy that we could leverage in situations like we have. And it would make our bullpen that much better and give us a chance to keep playing. And that's exactly what he's doing."