This postseason hasn’t been easy for Cleveland manager, Terry Francona. He lost two of his starting pitchers in September, then his Game 3 starter of the American League Championship Series had his finger sliced open by a drone.
Despite coming into the playoffs with the second-best record in the American League, people weren’t sold on Cleveland. They weren’t favored in the series with the Red Sox, and they weren’t favored in the ALCS against the Blue Jays.
How did they respond? They swept the Red Sox, and then beat the Blue Jays in five games. Now they’ll go into the World Series where they’ll meet the best team in baseball, the Chicago Cubs.
So without being favored, and with a decimated pitching staff, how do the Indians keep winning? A lot of the credit has to go to the man in charge, Terry Francona. Francona is no stranger to the postseason. He has two World Series rings, both with the Boston Red Sox. His players respect him. They trust him to make the right decisions.
Francona has proven that he’s not afraid to stray from traditional baseball tactics. The best example of this may be his use of star reliever Andrew Miller. In Game 1 of the ALDS Francona turned to Miller in the 5th inning. How many managers would be willing to use their best reliever in the 5th inning? There aren’t many, but it paid off. Miller went 2 innings with 4 strike outs.
Then, in the ALCS Trevor Bauer sliced his finger on a drone. He attempted to pitch, the stitches ripped open and blood dripped from his finger. He was removed in the first inning. Francona didn’t panic though. Instead he put on a masterful display of bullpen management. The game would feature six other Indians’ pitchers after Bauer. They ended the game surrendering just 7 hits and 2 runs.
The ALCS featured another issue for Francona though. He had a depleted pitching staff and needed someone to pitch Game 4. What did he do? He turned to Ryan Merritt, a 24-year old rookie, who threw 11 innings for the Indians this season. But, once again it worked out. Merritt threw 4 1/3 scoreless innings. He gave the Indians exactly what they needed.
It’s not just the pitching that Francona has managed well though. In Game 3 of the ALDS, Francona elected to start Lonnie Chisenhall in the outfield. Chisenhall struggled against lefties this season, and would be facing David Price. He responded by hitting a three-run homer.
Terry Francona could just be incredibly lucky. He does things that other managers wouldn’t consider, and they always seem to work out. But when you have the track record that he does, you get the benefit of the doubt. He knows his players. There’s a level of respect and trust from both sides. Players know that they are being put in positions to succeed, and it shows. That’s what makes Francona such a great manager, and arguably the best manager in baseball. It just so happens that the other candidate for best manager in baseball, Joe Maddon, will be in the opposite dugout this World Series. It’s going to be great one.