Sunday, August 26, 2018

August 26th: Cody. Allen.

This guy is killing me.

Cody Allen is the closer for the Cleveland Indians, a baseball team that I hold near and dear to my heart.  He's been the closer for the last six seasons and, as such, has amassed more saves than any other closer in Cleveland's storied history.  

This is not his year.

Let's look at some numbers:

Look at those five blown saves and bloated ERA.  Beautiful.  Let's get grosser:

Dude has a 5.10 ERA in the last 30 games.  FIVE-FUCKING-TEN.  And he is supposed to help us make it to the World Series?  Yeah, I don't think so.

Now, just for funsies, let's talk about options.  Because we actually have them since our front office secured another elite closer before the trade deadline.  I'm talking about Brad Hand.  Let's look at this splits:

Basically, ever since we acquired him, he's been lights out.  His first time on the mound as a Cleveland Indian, yes, he gave up a home run.  But so did Andrew Miller, and he's turned out to be pretty great for us.  With Hand and Miller, you've got undeniable power at the back end of the bullpen -- that is what we need for a successful October.  

So why does Tito keep sticking with Cody?  

Loyalty?  Blind faith that he'll "come around"?  Too expensive to bench?  Personally, I think it has less to do with Cody, specifically, and more to do with the all-around clubhouse feel that Tito has successfully created in his tenure as a major league baseball manager: you're my guys.  If he starts to panic and switch up everything, that creates chaos and insecurity with more veteran players as well as the younger guys.  Tito preaches consistency, day in and day out.  Don't abandon the plan that got you here.  It's admirable and it's probably even right.  There is no better manager in all of baseball, so I have no reason to doubt Francona's methods.  With our swollen twelve game lead in the Central, he's got plenty of cushion to do what he needs to do to ride out the regular season.
But I also think that, come October, Cody Allen won't be the one gettin' run out there in the 9th inning.  Francona wants that World Series title.  Brad Hand is the more reliable option to seal that deal.  And Cody, just like veteran Josh Tomlin who's having an abysmal season and has been marooned to the bullpen for "long relief" (ie the guy who eats up innings when we're already losing by a landslide), will want to do what's best for the team.  They're professionals.  They're proud to be part of the Cleveland organization for all these years.  They're part of this team, and if Tito needs to make adjustments that changes their roles -- or in the case of Tomlin, probably leaves them off the postseason roster -- they will be stoic about it.  

And then they will vanish into the land of free agency as soon as the last out has been called in the 2018 season.  It's been swell, fellas.

Cody Allen has had his time to shine as a Cleveland Indian -- and no one would be more excited than me if he actually did turn it around while still in our team's uniform.  But I was at Fenway Park on Monday, August 20 when Cody took the mound in the 9th inning and nearly blew it for us.  That game was, by far, one of the most intense things across any genre that I have ever experienced live.  First the Red Sox were winning and then we came back and then the Red Sox came back and then we took the lead by two runs. 

Two runs!

That should be enough for an "elite" closer to handle, right?  1-2-3 inning, we all go home.

Yeah, no.  Not when that "elite" closer is Cody Allen.  He gave up hits, he gave up walks.  He worked counts full and we watched that aggressive Boston lineup fight off pitches.  Cody gave up a run.

Fenway Park was a roaring monster, not just the infamous green wall, but the whole park, shaking, stomping, chanting, every...single...pitch...  There were runners in scoring position.  The whole place was poised for a walk-off celebration like baseball has never seen.  

Was this Game 7 of the World Series?  It sure as hell felt like it.  I sat in grandstand seats with my college roommate Corey.  It was her first time at Fenway and I didn't know how to tell her that this wasn't normal.  The earth was about to open up and swallow us whole, regardless of which team we were rooting for.  The tension, the electricity, the pandemonium was unparalleled.  I was on my feet, just like the rest of the capacity crowd was.  "No one leaves early," Corey had mused at the top of the ninth.  No one was going anywhere, not while Cody Allen's pitch count was being driven up and up and up and the opportunities for the Red Sox to snatch our victory away seemed to be mounting in their favor.

And then, on the twenty-eighth pitch of the inning, a fly out ended the game.

We had won.  But it's nearly a week later and I'm still completely rattled from that 9th inning.

I was back at Fenway for two more of that four game series (the Wednesday and Thursday games, both that went in the W column for the Red Sox), and the atmosphere was back to what I always associated with Fenway: engaged but not overwhelming.  That 9th inning from last Monday was overwhelming.

And it's because Red Sox Nation smelled blood.

Cody Allen's blood.

He escaped.  That time.

Just a few days ago, Cody made history, but not the good kind, when he gave up back to back solo home runs in the bottom of the ninth, giving the second worst team in baseball a walk-off win.  Why's it history?  Well, the back to back homers, that hasn't happened since 1964.  But it gets even better when you consider the players hitting both home runs are rookies.  That has happened exactly never.  So, cool.  Good job, Cody.  That's a great stat to your credit.

I don't know why Cody's had such a bad/a-typical season.  I've always found him to be reliable, though occasionally scary.  That I think is acceptable for a mid-to-small market team like the Indians.  We're not going to get the 100% stone cold closers that teams like the Yankees or the Red Sox are going to get.  But what we're seeing from Cody this year is more emblematic of someone who is injured and trying to fight through it....or someone whose mechanics have gone wonky.  Either case does not yield a reliable closer, which is what we need.  A hiccup is one thing.  A chainsaw through the bone is another.  Guess which one is Cody right now.

Maybe his woes started when set-up man Andrew Miller was felled by injuries in late spring and mid-summer.  Maybe Cody was trying to take on too much in the absence of such a giant.  All I know is when he comes into the game, my stomach ties in knots and I both can't look and can't look away.  I can see it in his face -- he wants it so bad.  He wants to be the guy Francona depends on him to be.  It's not for lack of effort or care or desire.  

And while we're still in the process of locking down the Central and finishing out the regular season, I will fight against my instincts to get enraged to see him trotting out there and try to give him the benefit of the doubt.  Dude has twenty-five saves this year -- he's ranked 11th on this ESPN list. He even outranks Brad Hand.  But Brad hasn't had as many save opportunities since coming to Cleveland because of splitting the duties with Cody.  My point here is that Tito's gonna tinker with the back end of the bullpen during the remaining weeks of the regular season.  But that tinkering better allow Hand the chance to be in those close game scenarios so he's ready for October.

Cody won't be ready.  Not this year.  And next year?  Next year will be too late.

Title by Meghan Dougherty

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