ALCS MVP Andrew Miller Is Biggest Game-Changer of 2016 MLB Playoffs

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistOctober 20, 2016

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 19:  Andrew Miller #24 of the Cleveland Indians throws a pitch in the seventh inning against the Toronto Blue Jays during game five of the American League Championship Series at Rogers Centre on October 19, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

The 2016 MLB postseason is butter, and Andrew Miller is a hot knife.

Miller got eight crucial outs Wednesday in the Cleveland Indians' 3-0 win over the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, which sent the Tribe to their first World Series since 1997.

In all, Miller logged 7.2 scoreless innings in the ALCS. He allowed three hits, didn't walk a batter and struck out 14.

Those are stat-sheet-melting numbers. Somehow, though, they don't do justice to what the lanky left-hander accomplished.

To truly appreciate Miller's performance, you had to watch him befuddle a potent Blue Jays lineup, locating his fastball with pinpoint precision and eviscerating swings with his wipeout slider. And you had to watch him do the same thing to an even more dangerous Boston Red Sox offense in the division series.

Miller accepted his inevitable ALCS MVP trophy with characteristic humility.

"It's a great team," he said in postgame remarks to Turner Sports' Ernie Johnson. "[The] defense. Our catcher Roberto Perez has been unbelievable. It's so special to be a part of. Top to bottom, everybody did something to help us win."

Fair enough. But let's get real: Miller did the most.

Miller credited Indians catcher Roberto Perez for his and the team's success.
Miller credited Indians catcher Roberto Perez for his and the team's success.Elsa/Getty Images

No, he's not the Indians' closer. That role belongs to Cody Allen, who recorded the final three outs in Game 5 and has played a credible Robin to Miller's Batman.

Miller is, however, drawing comparisons to the greatest postseason closer of all time, the New York Yankees' Mariano Rivera, from the likes of Pedro Martinez. Bleacher Report's Zachary D. Rymer also dove into the Rivera-Miller parallel.

Miller hasn't matched Rivera's body of work. But he's now thrown 20 postseason innings, including appearances with the Baltimore Orioles in 2014 and the Yankees in 2015, without allowing a run.

In these playoffs alone, he's up to 11.2 innings with 21 strikeouts. That's only seven shy of the all-time mark for a reliever in the postseason set by Francisco Rodriguez in 2002.

Cleveland limped into the playoffs with injured starters Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar on the shelf. Outside of ace Corey Kluber, its rotation was a flickering neon question mark.

Indians starters have held their own. In Game 5, rookie Ryan Merritt made the second start of his big league career and threw 4.1 gutsy, shutout frames.

Miller, though, has been the glue. Or the bridge. Pick your metaphor. He's embodying the old-school firemanthe durable, lights-out reliever capable of stretching over two or more innings. In this era of pitch counts and revolving bullpen specialists, it's a refreshing throwback.

Credit Indians skipper Terry Francona for trusting Miller and using him in a way that's unconventional by 2016 standards. Then again, when something keeps working this well, why would you quit doing it?

Indians manager Terry Francona has ridden Miller hard to make up for a depleted rotation.
Indians manager Terry Francona has ridden Miller hard to make up for a depleted rotation.Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Here's a peek into Francona's thinking on Miller, courtesy of MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince:

Anthony Castrovince @castrovince

I asked Terry Francona toward the end of the season what's the earliest he would use Andrew Miller, and he basically said conception.

This postseason has featured its share of heroes. Edwin Encarnacion clubbed some big homers for Toronto. Chicago Cubs second baseman Javier Baez has dazzled with his glove and bat. Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw has shed his October stigma and delivered for L.A.

Miller, though, is easily the most pivotal game-changer on any playoff roster. If he can keep this rolling and get the Indians their first Commissioner's Trophy since the Harry S. Truman administration, he'll also go down as arguably the greatest trade-deadline acquisition ever.

After clinching Wednesday at the Rogers Centre, the Tribe get to fly home and enjoy five off days before opening the Fall Classic on Oct. 25 at Progressive Field.

That's good news for the entire team but especially for Miller, who should be fully recharged to take on either the Dodgers or Cubs.

If you want to gaze ahead with caution, you could note that current Dodgers batters have hit a collective .318 off Miller, and Cubs hitters own a .292 average against him, per ESPN.com. The sample sizes are small, and the context is questionable, but that's fodder for speculation, at least.

For now, Indians fans can exhale, sit back and take a moment to savor what just happened. Their slider-slinging southpaw is redefining dominance on a nightly basis. He's making a run at history. Mostly, he's just damn fun to watch.

Butter, meet knife. October, meet Andrew Miller.


All statistics current as of Wednesday and courtesy of MLB.com and Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.