Terry Francona has been the manager of the Cleveland Indians since 2013, and the other night became just the third skipper in the history of the franchise to achieve 700 victories.
In the next several weeks, he will pass first Mike Hargrove (721) and then Lou Boudreau (728 and the last manager to pilot a World Series Champion for the Indians) to become the all-time winningest manager in franchise history.
At this point, we know how Francona likes to manage. He is famously patient with his players, particularly veterans with track records. Sometimes, this is frustrating for the fan base, but many times, his patience is rewarded.
We also know how he handles his bullpen. He has a caste system, trusting certain pitchers when he has a lead late in games, with most of the other arms being used when the Tribe is trailing.
When Cleveland had their great run from 2016-18, if the team had a lead late, everyone (fans and opponents) knew they were going to see a combination of Bryan Shaw, Andrew Miller, and Cody Allen.
And because all of those guys were outstanding, the plan usually worked.
This year is no exception. Shaw is part of this triumvirate as well, this time joining Emmanuel Clase and James Karinchak to form an excellent back end of the ‘pen.
Shaw’s resurgence has been remarkable. He was released by Seattle last season after two bad years in Colorado, but has rebounded to pitch in 21 games, throwing 20 innings, allowing just six hits, and has a 1.35 ERA with 23 strikeouts and a save.
Clase, who missed last season on suspension, has been in 23 games, and has a 0.83 ERA and 8 saves.
He’s given up some hits, but those are mostly groundballs that have found their way threw the infield. He was unhittable early in the year, but has been more human as of late.
And Karinchak has a 1.59 ERA and an unreal 42 whiffs in 22-2/3 innings and he has 6 saves in 24 appearances.
The biggest question as this season rolls on is can the heavy workload put on this trio allow them to hold their effectiveness throughout the season?
Coming into Saturday’s play Karinchak ranked tied for third in appearances with 24, trailing only Yasmeiro Petit of Oakland (26) and Jake Brentz of Kansas City (25).
However, the A’s have played four more games than Cleveland. The Royals have played the same amount of games.
Moreso, Clase ranks tied for eighth in games pitched at 23. Of the top ten in the AL in appearances, Oakland, Kansas City, Houston, Los Angeles, and Detroit all have two members. There are 16 pitchers involved because of the tie for the eighth spot.
Behind Shaw in appearances for Cleveland, the next most is Cal Quantrill, who the Indians say they are stretching out in an effort to help out the starting rotation, which has suddenly sprung some leaks. Nick Wittgren has pitched in 16 games, followed by Phil Maton (15) and Trevor Stephan, who is kind of a “innings eater” in blowout losses with 14.
The hope is Francona can gain some confidence in some other relievers, perhaps Nick Sandlin or Kyle Nelson, or even Wittgren or Maton to ease the burden off the primary late inning trio.
We understand, with the Indians’ offense ranking near the bottom of the league in runs scored, when they have the lead, the skipper feels he has to win that game. Therefore, he uses his best guys. Unfortunately, if the team is winning, it results in a lot of use for the primary guys.
Unfortunately, the Indians have only won four games this season by five or more runs, and the last of those was May 8th. That’s a lot of close wins, and it also means no rest for Karinchak, Clase, and Shaw.
The Indians can’t afford for one of that trio to start fading due to overuse. That very well could be the key to the Tribe’s season.