Cubs

Indians bullpen throws 4 1/3 scoreless innings in World Series Game 3 win over Cubs

Indians bullpen throws 4 1/3 scoreless innings in World Series Game 3 win over Cubs

There were nine outs left in a scoreless contest on Friday night and Andrew Miller once again was pitching like The Terminator, striking out Cubs hitters at will.

But with his team desperate for a run and in a prime position to score, Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona didn’t hesitate to pinch hit for his superstar reliever in the top of the seventh inning.

Not only did Francona and his coaches believe Coco Crisp would come through, they also had implicit trust in their rest of the bullpen. Crisp singled in a run and Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen rewarded the staff for their faith with three more scoreless innings to close out a 1-0 win over the Cubs in Game 3 of the World Series in front of 41,703 at Wrigley Field. The first World Series crowd at Wrigley in 71 years was treated to 4 1/3 scoreless innings by the Indians bullpen, which lowered its postseason earned-run average to 1.60 in 45 innings.

“It’s always tough to take (Miller) out, but we knew we had to score to win,” pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. “That’s the right move every time. And we trust Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen and Dan Otero to get the job done.”

In the midst of what could be a record-setting postseason, Miller has dominated the headlines.

An outstanding pitcher in each of the last four regular seasons, Miller has almost reached mythical status this October as he churns out dominant performance after dominant performance.

He struck out three more batters on Friday to give him 27 in 15 scoreless innings, one shy of the all-time postseason mark established by Francisco Rodriguez in 2002.

But the July 31 acquisition of Miller from the New York Yankees wasn’t made to fulfill a massive hole in the bullpen. Rather, it was made to put an already strong bullpen over the top.

[RELATED: Indians push the right buttons while Cubs can't in Game 3 of World Series]

With Miller, Allen, Shaw and Otero, who had a career season in 2016, Cleveland’s bullpen finished the season with a 3.45 ERA, the fourth-lowest in the majors.

And the group has only improved in October.

“There’s all the trust in the world,” said starting pitcher Josh Tomlin, who handed over the keys after needing only 58 pitches to complete 4 2/3 scoreless innings. “Those guys have been done an unbelievable job since the regular season and they haven’t changed their routines, changed their plans, changed their attack. They’ve been doing that for a long time. For them to do it on the biggest stage is nothing new for us and we have that comfort in them.”

Comfort enough to turn to Shaw even though Miller -- who has a postseason strikeout rate of 49.1 percent -- had only thrown 17 pitches.

Pitching with a 1-0 lead after Crisp’s RBI single, Shaw retired Ben Zobrist and Willson Contreras to start the seventh inning. Right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall then misplayed Jorge Soler’s fly ball down the line into a two-out triple. But Shaw escaped the jam as Javier Baez grounded out. Shaw also recorded the first two outs in the eighth inning and gave way to Allen after he gave up a single to Dexter Fowler. But Allen escaped that jam with a four-pitch strikeout of Kris Bryant.

The situation got a little hairy in the ninth for Allen after Anthony Rizzo led off with a single and a two-out error by Mike Napoli extended the inning and led to two Cubs runners in scoring position. But Allen rebounded after he fell behind Baez 2-1 in the count to strike him out and give the Indians their second win in three Series games.

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The performance gave the Indians a 4-0 postseason record with seven saves in eight tries. The group has struck out 60 batters in 45 innings with only 34 hits and 15 walks allowed.

“I think they’re all built from the same mold,” Callaway said. “They’ve all had to go through something pretty tough in their careers. And they’re stepping up like there’s no pressure on them.”

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Ricky Gutiérrez played in the Majors from 1993-2004. He played shortstop for the Cubs from 2000-01 and later signed with them again in June 2004. 

However, Gutiérrez never got back to the Majors with the Cubs, who sent him to the Red Sox the following month. His final Major League game was with the Red Sox on Oct. 3, 2004, the final game of the 2004 regular season; he didn’t play in the 2004 postseason. Gutiérrez was subsequently signed and released by a few other teams, including the White Sox in 2005.

Gutiérrez holds the distinction of being the first Cubs player to hit a regular season grand slam against the White Sox (July 12, 2001). In his two seasons with the Cubs, he tied for the Major League lead in sacrifice bunts both years (16 in 2000, 17 in 2001) which was odd since he had a grand total of 18 sacrifice bunts in his 847 career games NOT in a Cubs uniform. He also had uncharacteristic power with the Cubs:  21 home runs for Chicago in 272 games, 17 home runs with everyone else (847 games).

What Cubs fans probably remember most is what Gutiérrez did against them. On May 6, 1998 he had the lone hit (many dispute it should have been ruled an error) for the Astros off Kerry Wood in Wood’s 20-strikeout masterpiece at Wrigley Field (Gutiérrez was responsible for two of the strikeouts). 

Later that season, on June 26, the number 20 and Gutiérrez were again connected when he had a 20-pitch battle against Bartolo Colón, which ended in a strikeout. It remained the last plate appearance in the Majors of at least 20 pitches until Brandon Belt flew out on the 21st pitch of an at-bat against the Angels' Jaime Barria on April 22, 2018.

Gutiérrez’s nephew, James Jones, played 14 seasons in the NBA for the Pacers, Suns, Trail Blazers, Heat and Cavaliers.

2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?

chavez_kamka_story.jpg
USA TODAY

2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?

On July 15, Brandon Morrow recorded his 22nd save of the season with a scoreless inning in San Diego. It wound up being the last time he pitched in a game for the Cubs in 2018. 

Four days later, during the All-Star break, the Cubs made a move to bolster their bullpen, acquiring Jesse Chavez from the Rangers in exchange for minor league hurler Tyler Thomas. It wasn’t even the biggest trade they’d make with the Rangers that month – a little over a week later they dealt for Cole Hamels. 

Despite pitching nearly half the innings, Chavez was almost as valuable as Hamels.

2018 with Cubs IP fWAR
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.1
Cole Hamels 76.1 1.5

Chavez made his Cubs debut on July 21; from July 21 through the end of the season, 187 pitchers tossed at least 30 innings. 185 of them had a higher ERA than Chavez, while 184 of them allowed more baserunners per 9 innings.

Best ERA, July 21-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP ERA
Blake Treinen 32.1 0.56
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.15
Blake Snell 61.2 1.17
Trevor Bauer 35.0 1.29
Trevor Williams 71.2 1.38
Robert Stock 36.0 1.50

Fewest baserunners per 9 innings, July 32-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP BR/9 IP
Blake Treinen 32.1 5.85
Blake Snell 61.2 7.15
Jesse Chavez 39.0 7.15
Jacob deGrom 93.2 7.49
Scott Oberg 30.2 7.63
Josh Hader 33.1 7.83

But how did Chavez transform into one of Joe Maddon’s best bullpen arms down the stretch?  According to Chavez, his own transformation started on Mother’s Day.

Chavez entered a game in Houston with a 5.48 ERA in a dozen appearances, but pitched three innings with no hits, no walks and four strikeouts. From that point through the end of the season, he posted a 1.70 ERA and 0.892 WHIP. 

Chavez points to a change in arm slot which resulted in better consistency and a slight jump in velocity. A glance at his release point charts show that consistency, and he added roughly one mile an hour to his fastball.

"It's kept me more consistent in the zone," Chavez said. "Things have been sharper, velocity has been a lot sharper. I was huffing and puffing trying to get a 92 (mph fastball) out there and it wasn't coming.

"Next thing you know, I dropped it and it's right there, and I'm like, 'something's wrong here.' But I just took it and ran with it."

Jesse Chavez 2018 four-seam fastball velocity

  Average Max
Prior to May 13 92.6 mph 94.6 mph
May 13 on 93.6 mph 95.7 mph

Can Chavez be valuable in 2019?  The 35-year old reliever posted the best ERA (2.55), WHIP (1.059) and walk rate (4.5% - nearly two percent better than his previous best) in 2018, and he continued to get better as the season went on. 

He’s a former starter who can pitch multiple innings if needed, and that’s a valuable thing - especially for a manager like Joe Maddon, who uses his pitchers in a variety of ways. It’s unlikely he’ll have a second consecutive career year.

But he’ll likely be well worth the price tag; he only made $1 million in 2018, and even with a slight raise he should be very affordable. There’s definitely room in Maddon’s bullpen for a pitcher like Chavez.