Tribe Needs Top Two Relievers to Break Early Slumps
Craig Gifford | On 24, Apr 2016
Shaw worked a perfect eighth inning for his third hold of the season. Allen then tossed a flawless ninth in retiring Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez, the heart of Detroit’s lineup, in order for his fifth save of the young campaign.
The final two frames were like clockwork and went just the way the team has always drawn things up with the back end of its bullpen. However, it has not gone so perfectly for Cleveland’s top two relievers through the first few weeks of this season.
Both Shaw and Allen have been hit hard this year. The Indians need them both to pitch like they did Friday night and put their early-season struggles further into the rear-view mirror.
Shaw has had a pair of outings in which he just could not get anyone out. One of those cost the Tribe a win, the other turned out to be harmless.
On April 9th, Indians manager Terry Francona inserted his setup man into a game against the White Sox in the seventh inning. It was earlier than usual for Shaw, but Francona liked having his better late-inning guy face the most dangerous part of Chicago’s lineup. Shaw had had previous success against the batters he was to face. He had zero that day. He entered with a 3-2 lead. By the time Shaw was pulled from the mound later in the frame, the Sox had pounded him for five earned runs and had taken a 7-3 edge and eventually went on to win.
Last Saturday against the Mets, Francona put his setup man in the eighth as the Indians enjoyed a comfortable 7-1 advantage. Four runs later, the score was a much more narrow 7-5 heading to the final stanza. The Tribe did go on to win that game 7-5, but it was a second brutal day Shaw would like to forget. Those two outings are big reasons that his ERA is currently at an enormous 14.29 in 5.2 inning pitched.
For Allen, the ERA is a little better, but still a whopping 7.36. The good news is the Tribe closer has been very good when doing what he is paid to do most – get the save. He is 5-for-5 and allowed one earned run in those situations. Still, he has given up quite a few hits and worked out of jams in those such contests.
Where Allen has faltered has been in non save chances, in which he was needed to keep a close game or tie game right where it was and give his team an opportunity to win. Most recently was this past Thursday afternoon against Seattle. The Tribe and Mariners took a 7-7 game into the tenth inning. Allen had pitched a scoreless ninth and Francona decided to stick with his closer for another inning, as Allen has pitched multiple frames before. With two on and two out, Allen surrendered a three-run bomb to Robinson Cano that gave the Mariners a lead that the Indians could not overcome in the bottom of the extra inning.
Allen also got hit hard in Tampa on April 12th. He entered that game with two out in the eighth and Cleveland trailing 3-1. He was charged with trying to keep the score manageable to come back from. Instead, he surrendered a walk and home run and the Rays took a four-run cushion to the final frame.
While Cleveland’s top two relievers have been shelled a couple of times, it has not been all doom and gloom. Certainly, Friday gave a glimpse of what the team needs to see a lot more of. However, it was not the first time the duo has been on its game.
Shaw, for his multiple disastrous appearances, has entered the game seven times for Cleveland. He has held the opposition scoreless five of those times. Likewise, Allen has also made seven appearances for the Indians. He has not surrendered a run four times. The one time he did so in a save situation, he entered with a 3-1 lead. It does seem, at times, that Allen needs a tight lead in order for focus and succeed at a higher level.
For both, being early in the season, one or two bad outings will inflate an ERA to unsightly levels. A handful of appearances that the Indians and their fans have become accustomed to will certainly help that for each member of the bullpen’s dynamic duo.
The Indians need to have their big dogs perform at that level for a good stretch. Without them pitching as they did over the past few years, the Indians are going to have a very difficult time of reaching their postseason goal.
For better or worse, Allen and Shaw have carried the Tribe bullpen since 2013. They have been worked hard, but have had great success the last three seasons. Shaw has been a workhorse, logging innings totals of 75 in 2013, 76.1 in 2014 and 64 last year. Allen, in those same seasons has been at 70.1, 69.2 and 69.1. Shaw, in that time, bottomed out at 70 appearances in 2013, with a high of 80 games in 2014. For Allen, it was 77 games in 2013 and a low of 70 last year.
Allen’s first full season was 2013 as he first came on the scene in 2012. Shaw was actually one of Cleveland’s top bullpen guys in 2012, after a breakout with a solid rookie season in 2011 with Arizona.
While eating a lot of relief innings, the pair has been highly successful. Allen became the full-time closer in 2014 when he saved 24 game in 28 chances. Last year he saved 34 of 38. His ERA has been sub-3.00 each of the last three years, with a career-best 2.07 in 2014. Shaw has been below 3.00 each of the last two campaigns and in three of his five years total. His worst year was a 3.49 mark in 2012. He was at 2.95 last season. The Indians have come to expect a lot, and rightly so, from pair of relief aces.
Cleveland needs to have its top two bullpen guys continue to succeed and one would think they should. Despite logging a lot of time over the past year years, both are young. Allen is 27 and Shaw is 28. It is not like they are aging veterans whose arms are about to fall off. Neither has had any sort of real arm trouble or major injury.
It is a matter of baseball life that most relievers are going to get hit hard at some point in a season. When it happens early it tends to stand out a lot more due to ERA inflation. If Shaw and Allen had these little slumps in midseason, once they had built up strong numbers, it may not be felt as much.
In the end it is likely the Tribe’s most important relievers will continue to be just that, as they have strong track records to indicate they should be fine. By midseason this year, these early struggles will likely be forgotten. Once the setup man and closer have more outings like they did on Friday, the early issues will be a thing of the past.
Photo: Tony Dejak/Associated Press