The Indians are 6-4 through the early parts of the season and arguably boast the best starting pitching and bullpen in baseball. We’ll talk about the genius of building those another time, but today we want to focus on Shane Bieber, who arguably had his best outing in his career.
Firstly, let’s explain something about pitchers who throw a lot of strikeouts; they typically don’t get out of the 6th or 7th inning. Strikeouts require a lot more pitches to achieve and since Bieber is the best strikeout pitcher in the game (sit down, you know it’s true), he’s going to exhaust himself more regularly than say someone like former Tribe pitcher Josh Tomlin, who threw late into games all the time because he was a groundball pitcher. That’s someone who relied not on strikeouts, but defense, to get the outs.
So with that in mind, you may be surprised to know that Bieber has only had four nine-inning games to his career so far. Of those four nine-inning games, only one, did he throw more than 11 strikeouts. It was the May 19, 2019 game against Baltimore. Bieber recorded 15 strikeouts that day.
So why was the April 13, 2021 game against the White Sox arguably better? Pressure.
It’s easy to record more strikeouts against a team that’s on the other side of a blowout. Emotions change, effort change, and it goes from trying to win to just getting ending the game. Through four innings, Bieber only had four strikeouts that day in 2019, and the score was already 5-0 Indians. At that point, hitters become more aggressive and try to force something to happen.
Bieber was able to cruise because he faced a team that was getting beaten up. Not only that, but the Orioles weren’t good.
The White Sox are, at least on paper anyway, and they were locked in a close game with the Tribe on Tuesday night. When you have a lead, you can pitch with a bit more creativity. You have room for error. When you’re tied up and playing a close game, the pressure is on. The anxiety is more intense. The pressure is more severe.
Not only that, but you are just coming off of a game the night before where one mistake cost you everything. So when dealing with such a close game, there are far fewer opportunities to mess up as opposed to a game with a big lead.
So yes, Bieber had 11 strikeouts against the White Sox on Tuesday, while two years prior he had 15 in a nine-inning outing. One is more impressive in the stat column, the other is more impressive otherwise.
If Bieber is able to pitch as well as he did in a tight outing against the White Sox as he does with a massive lead, then you know this is a man who’s got the fortitude to out-duel anyone, anytime. That was proven against the White Sox on Tuesday.
That’s why his performance this week was his best outing yet; because it told you exactly what he could do when it was all on the line.