The Indians pulled out the win in Game 5 of the ALCS, moving on to the World Series and earning some much needed rest while awaiting the result of the Dodgers vs. Cubs series. Vegas expected the Blue Jays to win Game 5. The team had their stud, Marco Estrada, going up against a rookie who had only ever made one start in the majors prior to Game 5. Yet, it was Ryan Merritt who had the last laugh, as he helped secure the Indians a berth to the World Series for the first time since 1997.
All eyes were on Ryan Merritt leading up to the first pitch. Jose Bautista, infamous for his bat flip in the 2015 ALCS, was quoted as saying Merritt would be “shaking in his boots” more than the Jays would, come game time. Bautista went 3-18 (.167 BA) in the ALCS so he had little room to talk. Merritt, however, looked anything but nervous through his 4 1/3 innings pitched.
Ryan Merritt was a bit of an unknown in the national media spotlight. The man had just made one start previously in four appearances for the major league club this season. Ranked 29th in the Indians farm system, Merritt had pretty average numbers at Triple A Columbus this season, posting an 11-8 record with a 3.7 ERA. Merritt had low strikeout numbers, only 92 k’s in 143 1/3 innings, and accumulated a 1.25 WHIP over the sample size.
What these minor league numbers point out is that Merritt is (was?) projected to be a potential 5th starter or long arm in the bullpen, nothing really more, especially for a staff as potent as the Tribes. Yet, Merritt put up stats in Game 5 that show the composure of a wily MLB veteran.
Merritt was pulled after giving up a hit with one out in the fifth. In 4 1/3 innings pitched, Merritt accumulated 3 k’s and only two hits (including the aforementioned one that led to him being pulled). It may not look like much, but in a game where manager Terry Francona had a rested Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, four innings is all that was needed from Merritt. Merritt did not just put up impressive stats, however, he did a good job passing the eye test on the mound.
Merritt pitched like he had been in the league for years and exhibited plenty of control, especially in his fastball. He challenged hitters on both sides of the plate, freezing veteran hitters like Josh Donaldson with his inside corner fastball. Most importantly, and most fundamental, Merritt was throwing first pitch strikes. All through little league, it is pounded in young pitcher’s heads to keep it in the strike zone, get ahead in the count, and throw the junk with two strikes. Fangraphs goes deeper into the analysis, but the point is, the man can be counted on to give you a handful of solid innings.
That being said, if Trevor Bauer’s hand heals by Game 3 of the World Series, does he get sat in favor of Merritt? The decision is tough, but Bauer deserves the spot in the rotation come World Series. That is, only if the hand is truly healed. Game 3 of the ALCS led to Francona having to use way too many relievers for a playoff game to cover Bauer and his bleeding hand. The young pitcher will slot in nicely in this bullpen for now, in case Bauer cannot go. He gives Francona just another arm to rely on for the middle to late innings.
Ryan Merritt put up a memorable performance, so much so, that Indians fans are clamoring to pay for items on his wedding registry. Forever embedded in Indians folklore now, it will be interesting to see what Terry Francona does with the rotation this World Series? Is Bauer’s hand truly healed enough to give him a start? Would Francona be willing to go to a four man rotation just to give Merritt a start? The upcoming days will provide the answers as Game 1 of the World Series looms October 25th.
All stats courtesy of baseball reference.