In Game 1 of the American League Division Series between the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox, the Indians led 4-3 in the top of the fifth inning.
There were two outs and nobody on base, Brock Holt at the plate, with Mookie Betts on deck and David Ortiz in the hole. Instead of letting Trevor Bauer finish the inning, Terry Francona made a decision that many believe will change the way managers operate in the future: He summoned Andrew Miller, his best relief pitcher, who proceeded to throw 40 pitches over two scoreless Graham Gano Authentic Jersey innings as the Indians held on for a 5-4 victory.
The Indians would sweep that series, win the American League Championship Series and reach Game 7 of the World Series, as Francona stuck to his plan of using Miller as the leverage dictated, instead of letting the inning dictate Miller’s usage. Miller made 10 postseason appearances and entered in the fifth inning three times and twice in the sixth. He recorded at least four outs in each outing and pitched at least two innings six times. Analysts who had been advocating for years for exactly this type of bullpen usage were ecstatic.
It wasn’t just Francona and Miller. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts brought in closer Kenley Jansen in the seventh inning of Game 5 of the NL Division Series and let him throw 51 pitches (although Clayton Kershaw had to finish it off). Jansen had a two-inning save in the National League Championship Series and then pitched three innings in a 5-0 loss in Game 6. Aroldis Chapman, who had appeared before the ninth inning just six times in the regular season — three of those in mop-up situations just to get some work — entered before the ninth inning in seven of his 13 postseason appearances for the Cubs, including twice in the seventh inning.
Jeff Sullivan of ESPN Insider went back to 1996 and counted all the postseason relief appearances of more than one inning: 2016 ranked first. The average innings pitched for starters dropped to 5 1/3, an all-time low in the postseason. Cubs manager Joe Maddon pulled Kyle Hendricks, the league’s ERA leader, in the fifth inning of Game 3 of the World Series when he was throwing a shutout and again in the fifth inning of Game 7 even though there were two outs, just one runner on and the Cubs up 5-1.
“So you’re going to see starters pitch less and less. Relievers will go more, and it’s Greg Olsen Authentic Jersey likely that the best relievers will go even more than that. Bullpens will become ever more top-heavy, as managers worry less about overuse in a playoff schedule riddled with off days,” Jeff Sullivan wrote.