CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – Let’s play a little choose your own adventure game, shall we?
You’re in the batter’s box against Cleveland Indians reliever Andrew Miller. You have two options to begin your late-inning at-bat.
You can choose to sit on his fastball or you can somehow wait for a rare mistake with his slider.
Well, you know the slider is what the lanky lefty throws more often than his other offerings, so you’ve chosen to wait on one you can riffle into the outfield.
Oops. Strike one. Miller just poured in a 95 MPH fastball at the knees on the outside corner. Well, you’re not going to fall for that one again. It’s time to pick out one of those fastballs.
Oops. Strike two. Miller just tossed one of his lethal sliders for a strike. Oh no. This isn’t good. Well, all you’ve got to do now is avoid swinging at another one down and in at your feet.
Too late. You’re walking back to the dugout. Game over.
That must be what it’s like facing the Tribe’s ace reliever at this point. How else can you explain how the 31-year-old lefty makes Major League hitters — and some of the best offensive talents in the game — look like complete fools at the plate?
The game plan doesn’t change. You know what Miller wants to execute.
And yet, not many have a prayer against the dominant wipeout lefty, who has transformed the Indians’ bullpen into one of the most feared weapons in the game of baseball — and quite possibly, the biggest reason Cleveland holds a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series against the Toronto Blue Jays.
One inning. Two innings. 20 pitches. 30 pitches. Back-to-back days. And he could probably give more if asked. His flexibility, on top of his incredible ability.
There really isn’t anyone in baseball quite like him.
“Any chance we can get, you’ll find a way,” Miller said of tossing multiple innings on consecutive days. “Obviously we have our limits, but ultimately, coming out in these crowds and these situations, it’s not hard to get up for it.”
Sure. If that’s how you want to put it.
Let’s just take a look at the numbers.
Thus far in the ALCS, Miller has faced 12 hitters. One of them, Josh Donaldson, managed to single in the eighth inning of Game 1. Congrats. You’ve done more than most.
Another, Ezquiel Carrera, grounded out to second base in the eighth inning of Cleveland’s 2-1 Game 2 win on Saturday night at Progressive Field. By making contact, Carrera is also in a pretty elite club in this series.
As for the other 10 batters Miller has faced in the ALCS?
Strikeout swinging, strikeout looking, strikeout looking, strikeout swinging, strikeout swinging, strikeout swinging, strikeout swinging, strikeout swinging, strikeout swinging, strikeout swinging.
All 10 of the strikeouts have come on Miller’s lethal slider. In fact, 31 of the 55 pitches the lefty has made in Games 1 and 2 have been sliders. And only one batter — one! — has put one in play.
“When you think about what he’s doing against Major League hitters,” Indians outfielder Rajai Davis said, “some of the best hitters in the game, and he’s making him look that bad?
“His deception, his sharpness on his curve and his slider, that’s just pitches that they look like they’re going to be strikes and then when you go to swing, they’re not a strike. And they’re so close that they could be. And then he’s got that fastball that’s moving away from right-handers and in to left-handers. They’re tough pitches to hit, they’re tough pitches to square up. He’s going in and out. He just makes it tough on hitters.”
On Saturday, he carved through the six hitters he faced, Russell Martin, Melvin Upton Jr., Kevin Pillar, Darwin Barney, Ezequiel Carrera, and Josh Donaldson — with the ease of a knife through hot butter.
By the time Miller was done, the Blue Jays were befuddled, bewildered and beleaguered.
Enter Cody Allen, who neatly retired the Toronto bats in the top of the ninth. And that’s all she wrote.
“You have arguably one of the top-five best back-end relievers throwing in the sixth and seventh, because he doesn’t care,” second baseman Jason Kipnis said of Miller. “He’s doing it to win ballgames. He’s rubbed that off on a bunch of guys, where it’s whatever it takes.”
This is why Cleveland was willing to part with the prospect they did to acquire him from the New York Yankees at the trade deadline. Otherwise, giving up Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen for your average late-game reliever? No way could that be justified.
But Miller keeps proving he’s anything but average. He’s downright fatal to opposing clubs. And in the playoffs, he’s emerged as a weapon of mass destruction, making everyone around him better.
“We thought that he could be a guy that we could leverage in situations like we have,” manager Terry Francona said. “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.”