Cleveland put on a pitching clinic against Kansas City over the weekend, shutting out the Royals three straight games. Starters Ryan Merritt, Mike Clevinger and Carlos Carrasco each worked at least six innings, and an array of relievers cleaned up. The Indians opened up 9-game lead on third-place KC in the American League Central and are 6.5 up on Minnesota. The Tribe leads all of MLB with 15 shutouts and leads the AL with a 3.60 ERA. Behind the scenes, directing this show of arms, is Mickey Callaway, the ex-Ole Miss pitcher now in his fifth year as manager Terry Francona’s pitching coach. The Indians have ranked among the league ERA leaders in each of those seasons. Last year, with a staff thinned by injuries, Cleveland made it past Boston and Toronto in the playoffs and all the way to Game 7 of the World Series before falling to the Chicago Cubs. Callaway, widely considered managerial material, rates a chunk of credit in all of this. Next on the agenda for him and his staff is the New York Yankees in Yankee Stadium, a power-hitting team in a hitter’s park.
It’s a tough assignment Mickey Callaway has drawn in the American League Championship Series. The former Ole Miss pitcher, now the Cleveland pitching coach, must plot a course through a Toronto lineup loaded with mashers. The Blue Jays’ 2-3-4 hitters, Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista, batted .367 with five homers and 15 RBIs in taking out favored Texas in the ALDS. The Indians’ rotation has been thinned by injuries. The bullpen features the remarkably versatile Andrew Miller and stout closer Cody Allen but its depth will be tested in this best-of-7 series. “We’ve got our hands full,” Callaway told mlb.com. “… We’re going to have to have some guys step up and step up in a big way.” In his four years in Cleveland, Callaway has done a nice job of prompting guys to do just that. His staffs have consistently ranked among the league’s ERA leaders; they were second with a 3.84 in 2016 and posted a 2.33 against Boston, another powerful offensive club, in their ALDS sweep. Callaway’s success as a pitching coach stands in contrast to his experience as an MLB pitcher. He posted a 6.27 ERA and a 4-11 record in 40 games with three different clubs. A seventh-round pick by Tampa Bay out of Ole Miss in 1996, the right-hander did manage to win 71 games in the minors and 32 more in Korea and China. He began his pro coaching career in the Indians’ system in 2010 at Class A Lake County, where his charges had a 3.72 ERA. He moved up the ladder the next couple of years and was hired as the Tribe’s big league coach when Terry Francona became manager prior to the 2013 season. Francona called Callaway a potential “star” when he gave him the job. Cleveland has had winning seasons every year since 2013 and is now taking aim on its first World Series appearance since 1997 and first championship since 1948. P.S. Petal’s Anthony Alford belted a reported 434-foot home run in an Arizona Fall League game on Thursday. Toronto prospect Alford, off to a 2-for-8 start for Mesa, hit .236 with nine homers and 18 steals in an injury-tinged season in high Class A this season.