There has been a lot of discussion surrounding the Cleveland Indians bullpen, with the August 1 trade deadline fast approaching. Much of it is not exactly positive.
Many baseball experts and fans believe, and probably rightly so, that the Tribe needs to shore up its current crop of relievers. The back end of the ‘pen is a concern as the Indians have lost a handful of games, late, when it seemed they were going to come away with a victory.
One area that is not a concern for Cleveland, at least, is the guy who is typically last to leave the bullpen. Closer Cody Allen has remained terrific this season, despite the issues his fellow relievers have had and despite what has become revolving door of relief pitchers coming and going to the big league roster for the last several weeks.
This is now Allen’s third full season as the closer of the Indians and fifth season overall. His 2.59 ERA is not as good as the 2.07 he toted in 2014. It also does not tell the story of his 2016 campaign to this point.
Cleveland’s most important reliever has been nearly lights out since a rough opening month. Through April, Allen’s ERA was 6.97. Some were wondering if heavy workload was catching up to him. Manager Terry Francona had leaned heavily on his closer from 2013-2015 using him 70 times or more each season. Theories among fans had the Indians needing to search for a new closer, despite the fact that Allen was 6-for-6 in save opportunities. His issues came when the game was not hanging in the balance.
Much like Allen often slams the door on the ninth inning hopes of opposing teams, he has also slammed the door on his critics. He has slammed it with authority.
In May, Allen was almost untouchable with a 0.69 ERA. He gave up one earned run and four hits in 13 innings. Allen struggled a little more in June, as he blew two save chances – the only such missed opportunities for him this year. Still, his ERA for the month was 2.38. The six saves he did convert were a big reason the Tribe was a season-altering 22-6 as a team for the month. So far, July has gone much like May. He has yet to allow a run in six outings and seven innings. His four saves in July now have him at 19 for the season and right on his pace of the 34 he had each of his last two seasons.
Ever since Allen’s slow April start, he has pitched arguably better than ever. That is saying a lot for a guy who has not had an ERA over 3.00 since his rookie year of 2012. It has also been much-needed this season for the Indians.
Cleveland’s bullpen issues have been well-documented. Setup man Bryan Shaw has had his share of struggles. He has not been all bad. In fact, he has been good a lot more times than not. However, he has not been the same shutdown, late-inning reliever he was the past several seasons. He has been hit hard at times, costing the Indians a few wins.
Behind Allen and Shaw, there are only really two other relievers that Francona seems to have much faith in. Jeff Manship, a great free agent find before last season, and Dan Otero, whom the Indians seem to have struck gold with from this past winter’s bargain-basemen shopping, have been solid. It would be hard to count on either, however, in a tight, meaningful game. Neither has really been thrust in that position before in there careers.
Beyond that quartet, Cleveland’s bullpen has seen a lot of comings and goings with no one really making much of a mark. It is why bullpen help at the trade deadline seems to be number one on everybody’s priorities lists. It is also why Allen may be having the most significant season of his five-year career.
With so much unrest in the Tribe relief corps, imagine if Allen were having issues. A season that has so much potential right now would probably be more along the lines of mediocre. Instead, Allen has been sterling. When the Indians take a lead into the ninth, they can usually rest easily. That is important. It is one thing to lose a lead or fall behind in a tie game in the sixth, seventh or eighth innings. Losing games in the final frame are a lot more back-breaking. Allen rarely lets that happen.
This is not Allen’s best statistical season overall. Two years ago, he was almost to the point of dominant. However, this is his biggest year. He has been a bullpen boon when a lot of the guys around him have busted. Cleveland will need that down the stretch.
Even if the Tribe adds a bullpen arm or two, Allen will remain Tito’s go-to guy. He is able to get saves, covering more than three outs. He fares wells against lefties and righties. Even if a name like Andrew Miller were to be added to the relief mix, Allen would still be the team’s closer and the guy in the limelight.
Allen has proven he has the stuff of a very good closer. He has shown he can bounce back from a bad outing or rebound in a big way from a disappointing month like he had in April. The true test now will come when he takes the ball in the ninth inning of a big game of pennant race in August, September, and hopefully October. With what he has done this season, the team and fans can have faith in Allen. Even if faith has waned in the bullpen, as a whole, the closer has remained strong.
With so much noise surrounding the rest of the pen, Allen has almost quietly put together a wonderful 2016 campaign. It is nice when you don’t have to think or worry about the ninth inning situation.
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