Back in June, the Cleveland Cavaliers broke their city's 52-year championship drought by overcoming a 3-games-to-1 deficit against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. To win the city's second title in less than five months, the Indians will have to avoid being on the wrong side of such a comeback by the team that was the best in baseball all year long.
After winning a 3–2 squeaker at Wrigley Field in Game 5 on Sunday, the Cubs took Game 6 with a 9–3 rout, setting up the 38th World Series Game 7 in baseball history and the third in the past six years. Here are some thoughts on the last game of the 2016 season.
1. History class
Chicago is not only trying to win its first championship since 1908 and the third in franchise history but also trying to become the sixth team to win a best-of-seven World Series by overcoming a 3–1 deficit, after the 1925 Pirates (over the Senators), the '58 Yankees (over the Braves), the '68 Tigers (over the Cardinals), the '79 Pirates (over the Orioles) and the '85 Royals (over the Cardinals).
The Cubs are also looking to become the seventh team to win a World Series by taking the final two games on the road. In addition to the 1958 Yankees, ‘68 Tigers and ‘79 Pirates, three other teams did it: the '26 Cardinals (over the Yankees), the '34 Cardinals (over the Tigers) and the '52 Yankees (over the Dodgers).
The Indians, meanwhile, are going for their first championship since 1948. They’d like to join the '67 Cardinals (over the Red Sox) and the '72 A’s (over the Reds) as teams that frittered away a 3–1 lead but still won Game 7. They would be the first team to follow such a script by taking the finale on their home turf.
Speaking of which: Home field advantage has been a significant part of best-of-seven postseason series—home teams have won 55.6% of them overall (85 of 153)—it hasn't been as advantageous when it comes down to Game 7 of the World Series. Excluding the four best-of-nine Fall Classics (1903, '19, '20 and '21) plus the 1912 World Series—which needed eight games due to a tie—home teams are 18–18 in Game 7. In the division play era (1969 onward), however, they're 10–5, and in the wild-card era (starting in '95), they're 4–1. The '97 Marlins (over the Indians), the 2001 Diamondbacks (over the Yankees), the '02 Angels (over the Giants) and the '11 Cardinals (over the Rangers) came out on top and the '14 Giants bucked the trend by beating the Royals in Kansas City.
Cleveland tied with the Rangers for the AL's best home record during the regular season (53–28). With Tuesday's loss, the Indians are now 5–2 at Progressive Field during the postseason, with the losses coming in Games 2 and 6 of this Series, and have outscored opponents there, 24–19. The Cubs had the majors' second-best road record (46–34) and are now 5–3 away from Wrigley Field during the playoffs, outscoring their opponents, 43–32.
2. The Kluber Plan, Revisited
Corey Kluber has already put together a postseason for the ages, striking out 35 batters and allowing just three runs in 30 1/3 innings over five starts. His 0.89 ERA is the eighth-lowest mark among pitchers with at least 25 postseason innings dating back to the inception of the World Series in 1903, and he ranks third in the 48 years of the division play era.
Pitcher, Year, team
Blue Moon Odom, 1972, A's
Burt Hooton, 1981, Dodgers
Corey Kluber, 2016, Indians
John Smoltz, 1996, Braves
Steve Rogers, 1981, Expos
Madison Bumgarner, 2014, Giants
Danny Jackson, 1985, Royals
Orel Hershiser, 1988, Dodgers
Curt Schilling, 2001, D'backs
Josh Beckett, 2007, Red Sox
Orlando Hernandez, 1999, Yankees
As he did in Games 4 of both the ALCS against the Blue Jays and the World Series, Kluber is starting Game 7 on three days' rest. The good news for Chicago is that those two short-rest outings account for all three runs he's given up, in just 11 innings. It certainly didn't seem to matter much last Saturday, however: After the Cubs plated a run in the first inning, Kluber held them to three hits—all singles—and a walk over the next five innings. In all he needed just 81 pitches to get through 24 batters—3.38 per plate appearance, compared to 4.0 (88 pitches for 22 batters) in his six shutout innings in Game 1.
No starting pitcher has won three games in a single Fall Classic since Mickey Lolich in 1968. Kluber will be just the 12th man since then to even make three starts in one World Series. Here's how the previous 11 have fared.
Player, Team, Year
Ken Holtzman, 1973, A's
John Matlack, 1973, Mets
Don Gullett, 1975, Reds
Luis Tiant, 1975, Red Sox
John Tudor, 1985, Cardinals
Bruce Hurst, 1986, Red Sox
Ron Darling, 1986, Mets
Frank Viola, 1987, Twins
Jack Morris, 1991, Twins
Curt Schilling, 2001, D'backs
Chris Carpenter, 2011, Cardinals
Looking just at the eight pitchers who have done so since 1976 and updating my previous breakdown to include Kluber, they have posted a 1.13 ERA in their first outing, a 2.15 ERA in their second and a 3.25 mark in their third. Most of those pitchers rose to the occasion; Tudor was the only one to allow more than three runs (five, in 2 1/3 innings in a loss to Kansas City), and he and Darling (three in 3 2/3 against Boston) were the only ones not to manage at least quality starts in the finale. Darling’s Mets still won, rallying for an 8–5 victory over the Red Sox. Tudor’s Cardinals were blown out, 11–0, winding up on the short end of the aforementioned 3–1 comeback against the Royals.
The Cubs can hope Kluber is this year’s Tudor. The St. Louis southpaw threw a complete-game shutout in Game 4 that required 108 pitches after he threw 101 in Game 1—40 more pitches than Kluber has thrown in his two starts. The Indians can hope Kluber more closely resembles a different Cardinals ace, Hall of Famer Bob Gibson, who in the 1967 World Series posted a 1.00 ERA in 27 innings, shutting the door on those comeback-minded Red Sox in Game 7.
The 10 Greatest World Series Game 7s
3. The book on the Professor
Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks matriculated at Dartmouth, and he's as gifted on the mound as he is smart off it. After winning the NL ERA title during the regular season (2.13), he has pitched to a 1.31 ERA with 17 strikeouts in 20 2/3 innings over four postseason starts. That said, Chicago manager Joe Maddon has used a quick hook with Hendricks, letting him go past 5 1/3 innings only in the NLCS clincher, when he threw 7 1/3 innings against the Dodgers with a 5–0 lead. Despite having yet to allow a run, Hendricks lasted just 4 1/3 innings in Game 3 because he had yielded six hits and two walks and left the bases loaded for reliever Justin Grimm, who escaped the jam by inducing a ground-ball double play from Francisco Lindor.
4. The curious case of Aroldis Chapman
The big question for the Cubs' bullpen is the state of Aroldis Chapman’s arm and ankle. Maddon called upon his closer in Game 6 with two outs and two on in the seventh inning and a five-run lead, because he apparently no longer trusts any of his other options. Chapman needed just two pitches to get Lindor on a replay-aided groundout to first, but he had to sprint to the bag on the play and subsequently rolled his right ankle, prompting a visit from the training staff. He returned for the eighth and, even after Chicago stretched its lead to 9–2, was on the mound for the start of the ninth, running his pitch count to 20 before departing after he walked Brandon Guyer.
After the game, Jon Morosi of MLB Network tweeted that Chapman "would be available without limitations in Game 7." Still, Chapman's work on Tuesday could prevent him from an extended outing along the lines of Game 5, when he threw 42 pitches over 2 2/3 innings. Maddon also once again showed his handling of his bullpen to be more reactive than proactive, with his circle of trust narrowing to the point that lefty Mike Montgomery (who threw 17 pitches on Tuesday) and righty Carl Edwards Jr. (who got one batter out in Game 5 before being yanked in favor of Chapman) appear to be the only other relievers he’ll use in a tight game.
Via Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, Maddon’s solution is apparently going to be calling upon John Lackey (on three days of rest) and Jon Lester (on two days of rest)—a pair who rank first and second among active pitchers in postseason innings, with 140 1/3 and 130 2/3, respectively—to make their first relief appearances in years. Lackey, who threw five innings and 84 pitches in Game 4, pitched a scoreless inning in relief in Game 4 of the 2013 World Series. Lester, who threw six innings and 90 pitches in Game 5, hasn’t come out of the bullpen since the 2007 ALCS, when he threw three scoreless innings in a Game 4 Indians win.
Lester is Maddon’s preferred option as middleman, but such are his issues with base runners that David Ross would have to enter the game to replace Willson Contreras behind the plate if and when it comes to that. The 39-year-old Ross has caught all but three of Lester’s innings this season, and while his overall caught stealing rate of 27% was merely league average, he’s nabbed 33% with Lester on the mound, including three out of eight attempts in the postseason.
If the gambit pays off, either of these pitchers could join the ranks of Bumgarner and other top starters who came out of the ‘pen to save the day.
5. Cleveland's 'pen is mighty rested
There was some good news for the Indians in the wake of Tuesday night’s defeat: None of Cleveland's top three relievers—Cody Allen, Andrew Miller or Bryan Shaw—even warmed up, let alone got into the game. Miller and Allen should be able to combine for four innings of work in Game 7 if manager Terry Francona so desires. Kluber, Miller and Allen have combined for 59 of the team’s 124 postseason innings (47.5%) and will likely push that figure back above 50%, win or lose. So far, they’ve yielded just four runs among them for a 0.61 ERA, striking out 86 (13.1 per nine, or 26% of all batters faced).
Among the relievers that the Indians used on Tuesday, Mike Clevinger (32 pitches), Danny Salazar (28) and Zach McAllister (20) are the only ones whose availability might be questioned under normal circumstances.
6. Chicago hit parade
The Cubs’ cold bats have heated up, to say the least. After starting the series 1-for-15, Kris Bryant is now 5-for-7 with a pair of homers since then. Addison Russell, who began the postseason 1-for-24, is 12-for-37 with three homers and two doubles starting with Game 4 of the NLCS. Anthony Rizzo, who opened October with a 1-for-23 skid, is 16-for-39 with three homers (including one late in Game 6) and five doubles since NLCS Game 3. Meanwhile, Kyle Schwarber, who was back in the lineup with the DH back in play, went 1-for-3 with a walk in Game 6 and has now reached base in seven of his 14 plate appearances.
7. Davis on defense
Cleveland's outfield defense has been a rough spot at times in this series, as was particularly evident in Game 6. In the first inning, Russell hit a catchable fly ball that fell between rightfielder Lonnie Chisenhall and centerfielder Tyler Naquin because of miscommunication, allowing two runs to score and giving Chicago a 3–0 lead. During the season, the Indians’ outfielders tied for 20th in the majors with -11 Defensive Runs Saved, and three players who combined for +8 DRS—Michael Brantley, Abe Almonte and Marlon Byrd—aren’t on the World Series roster.
Naquin was 17 runs below average in center, and while Rajai Davis was minus-five himself, he at least hasn’t appeared to have any of the problems in the outfield that Naquin did on Tuesday night. At the plate, Davis started the postseason in a 1-for-23 slump, but he went 2-for-4 and stole three bases in Game 5, so it was something of a surprise that he was on the bench for Game 6, especially given Jake Arrieta’s problems containing the running game. Davis has to get the call in center for Game 7 lest Francona risk another game-changing catastrophe.