CLEVELAND -- It is impossible to simulate an October environment. Over the final six weeks of the regular season, though, the Indians dealt with a series of rotation issues that pressed their bullpen into duty early and often. The group was tasked with more high-intensity innings that anyone could have anticipated.
It is no secret that bullpens can play an integral part on the postseason stage. Look no further than the Royals of recent Octobers to see how far an overpowering relief corps can take a team. Given the way things went down the stretch for the Tribe, manager Terry Francona's bullpen army is more than prepped for what could be coming.
"I doubt any other bullpen is more prepared," Indians relief ace Andrew Miller said, "for that mentality of going out there and expecting to have to cover seven or eight innings. Ideally, our starters pitch well and pitch deep. But, there might be some days where we have to use everybody out there."
The Indians, who will host the Red Sox in Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, TBS), ended the regular season with a league-leading seven games that included at least eight pitchers. Four of those games came in September, when the Indians lost starters Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco to injuries.
In the wake of those injuries, and while trying to work through Josh Tomlin's search for consistency after a rough August, the Indians had three designated bullpen days in the final month. Then there was Sept. 17, when Carrasco left after only two pitches after being hit on the right hand by a line drive. In that game, the bullpen patched together 10 shutout innings en route to a 1-0 win over the Tigers.
On the season, the Indians had 30 games in which their starter went no more than four innings. Ten of those games came in September, and Cleveland still managed an 18-11 record over the season's final month.
"The way the bullpen has kind of come together," said Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti, "and been used in the course of the last six weeks really had a playoff-type environment to it, or feel to it. So, I think our guys are really prepared going into the postseason and positioned to be successful."
A lot of the Indians' success as a bullpen came after Miller was acquired via trade from the Yankees on July 31.
With Miller in the fold, Francona has been better able to mix and match his relief options in the most opportune situations. Miller can handle a lot of the tough left-handed hitters, allowing the manager to pinpoint better stretches of lineup to utiliize right-handers Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Dan Otero and Zach McAllister. Helping matters is the fact that each of those pitchers has shown a willingness to log mulit-inning efforts, if needed.
Since Miller joined the fold, Cleveland top five relief arms -- including Allen, Shaw, Otero and McAllister -- have combined for a 1.76 ERA, a 0.88 WHIP and a .192/.235/.287 opponents' slash line over 127 2/3 innings. That includes 142 strikeouts against 26 walks. Behind that group, Cleveland will feature Mike Clevinger, Cody Anderson and Jeff Manship on the ALDS roster.
If the Indians only get four or five innings from their starter -- a possibility in the high-pressure environment of the postseason -- the team is confident it has the arms to make up the difference.
"We've done it multiple times, especially in September," Shaw said. "We had some guys with quick hooks. I think there were a couple times with bullpen days. We're always ready, whether it's the first inning or the ninth inning."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.