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Both the Cubs and the Indians have reasons to be optimistic heading into Game 7

November 2, 2016 Leave a comment

1205px-2016-world-series-svgEveryone is excited for Game 7 of the World Series tonight. Rightfully so, and I am as well, but I’m also feeling a bit glummy with the realization that this is the final meaningful baseball game for five months (unless you count the World Baseball Classic in March, which my baseball-starved mind definitely will come that time). 

One game left, and what a game it is. Two very worthy teams with — in case you hadn’t heard — two lifetime-spanning championship droughts. One from each side will fall tonight. Which ones? I’m not going to make a pick; let’s just enjoy the game without predictions. However, both the Cubs and the Indians should be supremely confident that they will feel the sweet, sweet burn of champagne in their eyes by the end of the night. Here’s why.

Chicago Cubs

Another late-series surge by the offense

Cub Fan was freaking out after Chicago’s loss in Game 3 of the NLCS. After being shut down by Rich Hill and the Dodgers, the Cubs trailed in the series, 2-1, and had scored one run in the previous two games. 

Then came Game 4. Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell, who were in the slumpiest of slumps, both homered and the Cubs rolled from there. They won the next three games with the help of 23 runs (17 earned). 

This all feels familiar because the Cubs’ bats had taken an early winter hibernation for most of the World Series as well. That lasted until yesterday’s Game 6. Buoyed once again by an offense highlighted by home runs from Rizzo and Russell, the Cubs won easily, 9-3. We’ve seen very recently how this attack can heat up in a hurry and stay hot. It took care of Clayton Kershaw on short rest just 11 days ago, so what’s the big challenge of facing Corey Kluber on short rest (again) when this lineup is clicking?

They have their own advantage in the bullpen

The Indians have the better overall bullpen, sure. But tonight being Game 7 and all, everyone who can throw a pitch is available. That’s good news for the Cubs since, if Joe Maddon’s usage of Aroldis Chapman in the past two games is any evidence, they could use some more trustworthy arms in the ‘pen. So how about Jon Lester and John Lackey in relief? No matter how it works out after starter Kyle Hendricks departs, that looks good on paper. Both are World Series winners. As for Lester, it would be pretty cool to see the possible 2016 National League Cy Young Award winner come into the game in the sixth or seventh inning. Lackey, you may remember pitched one-run ball over five innings in a World Series Game 7 as a rookie. Granted, that was 14 years ago, but the point remains that he won’t have any stage fright if called upon. Cleveland’s bullpen is better, but the Cubs’ bullpen is as deep and has more talent than ever before tonight.

Aroldis Chapman is available

I am one of the millions who disagreed with how Maddon used Chapman in Game 6. Bringing him in during the middle of a seventh inning for the second consecutive game seemed like an unnecessary reach. Doing so with a five-run lead seemed like overkill. But I’m not concerned with how it will affect him tonight. Yes, he has thrown four innings and 62 pitches over the past three days. He has logged 6.1 innings and 102 pitches in this series, which he didn’t appear in until Game 2. 

And I really don’t think it matters all that much. The Cubs will call upon Chapman whenever they feel like it tonight, and he will try to give them what they want. He and his fastball will be amped, that’s for sure. Pain be damned. I wouldn’t be shocked if he is asked to get more than three outs. As a free agent-to-be and one who likely won’t be re-signing with Chicago during the winter, the Cubs will fire the Cuban Missile for as long as they can. 

They were the best team this season

The regular season may mean nothing now, but if the Cubs want a mental boost before tonight’s game, they need to remember how they got here: 103 wins. Third-most runs scored in the league. Fewest runs allowed. Largest run differential by more than 60. The better team doesn’t always win, but the Cubs should remind themselves that obtaining that lofty win total didn’t just happen by chance. 

Cleveland Indians

They are playing at home

This actually might be a plus for the Cubs given that the away team is 4-2 in this series, Chicago brings a massive fan base to every city, and we just saw in Game 6 how quickly the home-field advantage can be squashed. But if you gave each team the option of where they would want to be playing Game 7 of a World Series, of course they would pick their home yard, for good reason. The Indians had the league’s second-best home record during the regular season, tied with the Rangers and the Dodgers at 53-28. Only the Cubs were better at 57-24. For what it’s worth, the Cubs also carry MLB’s best road record, 46-34. That’s what happens when you win 103 games!

Home field isn’t worth much, but it’s nice to have in the most important game of the season. For some players, it will be the most important game of their career.

Corey Kluber is dang good

He’s on short rest for the second time in as many starts, and this will be the Cubs’ third look at him in eight days. OK, I got it.

Counterpoint: Corey Kluber is still a beast.

He has allowed just three runs over 30.1 innings this postseason while compiling a 0.99 WHIP and a 35:8 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Chicago got to him in the first inning of Game 4 for a run on two hits, but then Kuber didn’t allow a runner past second base for the rest of his outing. A first-inning pounce is probably a big key to a Cubs victory tonight. As we’ve seen already, Kluber can dominate on three days rest once he settles in. If that happens, look out, because …

Miller, Shaw and Allen are locked and loaded

What’s a good nickname we can give this trio? Miller had it so easy with “ABC” as a member of the Yankees. The possible three-initial combinations just don’t work as well here. Sigh ….

Anyway, while I don’t think using Aroldis Chapman in Game 6 puts the Cubs at a clear disadvantage for tonight, the Indians staying away from their Big Three on Tuesday leaves them in an absolutely perfect situation IF they can just be leading after five innings.

Kluber for 5, Andrew Miller for 2, Bryan Shaw for 1, Cody Allen for 1. 

Or Kluber for 6, Miller for 2, Allen for 1.

Or Kluber for 5, Miller for 4. Truly, the Indians should keep Miller in the game until he gives up consecutive hits or he tears his shoulder out — whichever comes first, and my money’s on the shoulder giving way. The run that he gave up in Game 4 was the first and only one he has allowed in 25.1 career postseason innings.

Miller has had three days off; Shaw and Allen have had two. Here is their collective pitching line for these playoffs:

38 innings, 27 hits, five runs (four earned), 11 walks, 62 strikeouts. That’s a 0.95 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP.

If the Indians are leading once the sixth inning arrives and lose this game, it will be pretty surprising.

One more baseball game for the next five months. It should be one to remember.

Aroldis Chapman’s suspension seems like a reasonable start for MLB’s domestic violence policy

547973With not much to go on other than police reports, some conversations, a gut feel and conscience, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred ruled on Aroldis Chapman’s domestic violence case Tuesday.

And it feels like he ruled justly. It’s difficult to say unequivocally that the suspension’s length of 30 games is completely fair because there is so much that we (and Manfred for that matter) don’t know and will never know about what occurred between Chapman and his girlfriend on Oct. 30. She said he pushed her against a wall and choked her. He said he poked her on the shoulder with two fingers and she fell down.

But again, this feels proper for what we do know. If you think Manfred was weak in this instance, take a look at what he had to work with in this first case under the league’s new domestic violence policy:

Chapman was not arrested. He was not charged with a crime. The witnesses present gave inconsistent accounts of what occurred. There was no video or any other smoking gun to corroborate the victim’s claims.

But it still resulted in Chapman losing nearly $2 million in pay and being banned for almost one-fifth of his team’s season.

By comparison, in 2014, the NFL suspended running back Ray Rice for two games — one-eighth of a player’s season — after he had already been arrested and charged with simple assault and after he was later indicted by a grand jury for aggravated assault. One month after handing down the suspension, commissioner Roger Goodell admitted he was too lenient. 

Manfred didn’t want to make a similar admission.

Maybe you think instead that 30 games for Chapman is too harsh. We know some sort of physical altercation occurred, but there’s no way of knowing the truth there. Even in his statement on the suspension, Manfred singled out Chapman’s use of a gun inside of his house rather than any sort of physical violence as the main reason for the ban.

 

Thirty games for firing a gun at a wall in his house and some unclear assertions of physical violence? How does the crime fit the time? I’ve seen people take that stance on Twitter to argue that Manfred brought the hammer down too hard on Chapman. If you think so, I’m sorry, but I’d much rather have a commissioner who takes a harder line against domestic abuse than one who follows in the missteps of his professional equals.

Those in positions of power in sports have a long history of overlooking domestic abuse. It’s time for a change. Call this an overcorrection or making up for the errors of previous regimes if you are so inclined, but it’s better late than never. This issue needs to be addressed and handled in sports with the gravity and sensitivity it deserves. Firing a gun in a house with children present, even if there is no intent to cause physical injury, can be cited as intimidation and domestic abuse. Honestly, with the lack of hard evidence against Chapman, Tuesday’s announcement feels like the floor for anyone found in violation of MLB’s broad policy against domestic abuse, sexual assault and child abuse. If Chapman’s actions garnered him this type of punishment, what lies ahead for those in baseball who are arrested and charged with such a crime? That will be a huge precedent-setter.

I would have been OK with a longer suspension. Conversely, I don’t think 20-25 games would have led to much more outrage. But it’s pretty evident that the parties involved reached the number 30 following some long negotiations. Manfred, in his first attempt at levying such a penalty, put forth a judgement with some meat and consequence on it. Chapman, as a reward of sorts for accepting the 30-game ban and not filing an appeal (something that once seemed inevitable), he stays on track to become a free agent following the 2016 season, given that he’s not suspended again.

For the New York Yankees, they still have Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances in the bullpen, and they knew this decision was coming. Now that it’s here, I think a pro sports league commissioner, after dealing with a player accused of domestic abuse, deserves something rather rare: a decent amount of commendation.

Running Off At The Electronic Mouth, No. XV

I think I’ve said this before, but I’m going to make these stream-of-consciousness posts a weekly occurrence. I’m going to do it, dammit!

  • I don’t know what happened to Taj Gibson, but it’s amazing to see how he’s transformed since when I was watching him at USC. He was never this ferocious on the court. His final dunk in tonight’s Game 1 versus Miami was a clear “Take that with you!” moment.
  • Tonight’s Heat-Bulls game gave me a lot of pleasure, not just because I wanted to see the Heat lose, but also because I watched the beatdown with a bunch of people, including some woman who said she was rooting for the Heat and hated the Lakers. Harmless enough.

Why, I asked. She said the Lakers today are “too Hollywood,” too busy doing commercials. Totally unlike the Heat. She said the Lakers of the ’80s were better than these Lakers today because they “weren’t Hollywood” and were paid less. This woman had to be in her 60s, but it was really hard for me to not tell her she’s a bad combination of ignorant/crazy.