“You know, these guys ain’t so f—– bad!”

In a stunning bit of deja vu, for a second straight year, a widely underrated team from the AL Central defied expectations and ousted the formidable Toronto Blue Jays from the American League Championship Series, as the Cleveland Indians secured their first pennant in almost two decades Wednesday with a 3-0 victory at Rogers Centre.

How did Cleveland get here, awaiting a date with either the Chicago Cubs or Los Angeles Dodgers in the 112th edition of the Fall Classic? Well, here are three reasons why the Indians are World Series-bound:

Dominant starting pitching

When Carlos Carrasco broke his finger in mid-September, few had faith that Cleveland – whose regular-season success was largely a function of strong starting pitching – had a shot to make it out of the division series. On Wednesday, without either Carrasco or Danny Salazar throwing a pitch this postseason, the Indians won their first pennant in almost two decades, largely because of strong starting pitching. Through eight postseason games, Cleveland’s patchwork rotation – comprised of Cy Young award winner Corey Kluber, junkballer Josh Tomlin, injury-drone Trevor Bauer, and random guy Ryan Merritt – has fashioned a 1.86 ERA, managing a 26.3 percent strikeout rate while allowing only three home runs in 38 2/3 innings (0.70 per nine).

Andrew Miller

“Don’t let it get to Miller” was a common refrain throughout Rogers Centre this week, because everybody in the stadium knew the game was over when that bearded, 6-foot-7 monster came jogging in from the bullpen. Miller, who hurled four scoreless innings over two division series appearances, was simply superhuman against Toronto, allowing just three baserunners while striking out 14 of the 25 batters he faced over 7 2/3 scoreless innings in the ALCS – more innings than Bauer and Merritt threw combined against the Blue Jays. Now one of four relievers in history to be named MVP of the league championship series, Miller has yet to allow a run in 11 2/3 innings this postseason.

Red Sox, Blue Jays went cold

Cleveland’s pitching staff deserves a lot of credit. What they’ve done over the last three weeks is remarkable. Still, let’s not pretend that both the Red Sox and Blue Jays – the best and fifth-best offenses, respectively, in the American League this season – didn’t also fail to take advantage of some favorable matchups. Josh Tomlin gave up 36 homers during the regular season, but somehow won his starts against Boston and Toronto, limiting them to three runs and seven hits – no homers – in 10 2/3 combined innings. Ryan Merritt, who had 11 innings of MLB experience prior to Wednesday, was perfect through three innings against Toronto in Game 5 of the ALCS, and ended up allowing just two singles over 4 1/3 shutout frames in his postseason debut. Even after taking into account Terry Francona’s savvy bullpen management, who could’ve expected the Red Sox to flounder this bad in the ALDS:

Split OPS AVG BB/K AVG W/RISP
Regular season .810 .282 0.48 .283
ALDS .655 .214 0.29 .143

The Blue Jays were even more abysmal in the league championship series:

Split OPS AVG BB/K AVG W/RISP
Regular season .755 .248 0.46 .249
ALCS .534 .201 0.22 .120
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