Everyone 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.
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.
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.
Now that I’ve published what I consider to be the possible high and low points for every team, let’s keep the guessing game going with a look into what will happen by the end of this season.
American League East
1. Toronto Blue Jays (No. 1 seed in the AL playoffs)
2. Boston Red Sox (4)
3. New York Yankees
4. Tampa Bay Rays
5. Baltimore Orioles
Toronto’s offense is unmatched. But with Marcus Stroman, Marco Estrada and a strong bullpen, the Jays are much more than a bunch of bats. The Red Sox so desperately want to make up for last year’s failure, and they will to a point. David Price cures a lot of ails, but how far that team goes really hinges on the well-being of Clay Buchholz and their aged stalwarts.
American League Central
1. Cleveland Indians (3)
2. Detroit Tigers
3. Kansas City Royals
4. Minnesota Twins
5. Chicago White Sox
I’m assuming Michael Brantley has no further problems with his repaired shoulder. That pitching staff should be the best in the division. Detroit should hit a ton, and its new bullpen looks nice. I have them just below Cleveland because I don’t trust Anibal Sanchez to stay healthy, and the starters behind him in the rotation are a mystery. And no, I will never learn my lesson about doubting the Royals. I’m a stubborn person, OK?
You know the adage that is hammered into every team preview column at this time of year: Hope springs eternal. That hope is then extinguished pretty early for some teams. Really, really early for others. But we should all be optimists in March. So, here’s what I consider to be the best-case scenario for each team on the field this season.
However, I’m also a realist. “Winning the World Series” isn’t a down-to-earth possibility for everyone. Conversely, there is no chance that the Cubs — even the Cubs — will lose 100-plus games. Consider this list a sensible results spectrum for each team. “Sensible results spectrum” just doesn’t sound catchy as a title.
Best Case: All that action in December pays off as Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller head a staff with a good amount of complementary talent. Patrick Corbin more closely resembles his 2013 form. The offense remains potent, and 36-year-old Brad Ziegler follows up a solid 2015 by continuing to make hitters pound the ball into the dirt. A division crown is very possible, and a trip to the NLCS isn’t out of the question.
Worst Case: This is basically a repeat of the 2015 Padres: Winning the offseason doesn’t promise success over the summer. Miller has an understandable regression, turning the rotation into Greinke followed by a bunch of guys. The offense will still be productive, but the likes of David Peralta and Yasmany Tomas don’t do enough to support Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock. Who knows if this will all mesh? If it doesn’t, third place is where they will land.
Best Case: For some teams, winning right now isn’t really what’s best for the club. The Braves are one such team. What’s best for them is seeing some of their young players (Ender Inciarte, Julio Teheran, Matt Wisler, Aaron Blair, etc.) provide hope for the future, a healthy Freddie Freeman, and a lot of losses so they can maximize their draft pool and couple Dansby Swanson with another No. 1 overall pick.
Worst Case: Freeman battles more injuries. Atlanta’s green pitchers get thoroughly battered around the league. Coming out to Turner Field only serves to remind fans how the Braves are technically deserting Atlanta and a relatively young ballpark to get their hands on some more sweet, sweet public money where a lot of rich white folks live. No hope.
Best Case: Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Matt Weiters, J.J. Hardy, Jonathan Schoop, Mark Trumbo, Pedro Alvarez. This team should lead the sport in home runs, so that’s cool. If the starting rotation can be league average collectively, the O’s can slide their way into a Wild Card spot.
Worst Case: The starting rotation is as much of a tire fire as many expect. That unit lost Wei-Yin Chen and basically replaced him with a Yovani Gallardo who is becoming more hittable. Weiters still can’t shake the injury bug. In the game’s deepest division and bereft of an arm they can depend on to stop a losing streak when the strikeout-happy bats are slumping, Baltimore could find itself in last place comfortably.
Boston Red Sox
Best Case: What was supposed to be in 2015 comes to fruition in 2016. All of the vets are able to stay healthy. Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez endear themselves to Red Sox Nation. David Ortiz gets one more shot at October magic. The duo of David Price and Clay Buchholz dominate, and the back end of the bullpen with Craig Kimbrel is no longer a point of great consternation for the Sawx. This squad has World Series potential.
Worst Case: Another huge letdown. Price remains great, but the rotation otherwise is a mess. Buchholz hardly makes it past 100 innings again. Carson Smith’s elbow injury subtracts a critical late-inning weapon. First base becomes Ramirez’s latest comical defensive venture. With Sandoval, people talk more about his fat than his bat. Father Time continues to wear on Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia. Fourth place and another finish behind the Yankees.
When the Pittsburgh Pirates fell off the proverbial map following last year’s 19-inning game — a controversial loss in Atlanta which led to the creation of this gem — I kind of shrugged it off. I mean, it’s the Pirates; nobody really expected them to hang around for the long haul. They’ve been completely forgettable since the years of the Clinton Administration. They played over their heads; it was bound to end sooner than later. Oh, well. Too bad. Better luck next year.
Then next year came, and the Pirates looked really good. They sucked me in. I was a believer in Andrew McCutchen, James McDonald and A.J. Burnett. I believed that this would be not “The” year for the Pirates, but certainly a year to remember. Finish over .500? Definitely. Get into the playoffs? Sure.
While they had fallen off the pace for the NL Central crown by Aug. 19, the Pirates were still in line for a Wild Card berth. On that day, they played another 19-inning game. But this time, they won, 6-3, over the Cardinals on the road. You just knew that this would bring the Pirates together with enough momentum and confidence to know they can outlast anyone, anywhere.
Or it could just tire them out and lead to another huge, season-crushing slump. You know, either/or.
I don’t know. You think Chipper Jones should stick around for one more year?
For a guy who looks awfully comfortable with the curtain closing on his brilliant career, Chipper is having a great season. Maybe that’s because he is awfully comfortable. He is hitting more than .300, OPS’ing close to .900, and he has spent just one relatively short stint on the disabled list, Chipper’s home away from the field many times in recent years.
Simply, he is in the midst of his best season since 2008.
Chipper added to it Thursday night with a two-homer game versus San Diego. It was his first since 2009, spanning 1,380 at-bats.
But it takes on a little extra significance now that Jones is a quadragenarian. At least, that’s what I would like you to believe for the sake of this post.
Jones becomes the 38th player all-time to hit two home runs in a game at the age of 40 or older. Jim Thome did it twice in 2011 and once in 2010. Other players to accomplish it recently have been Jason Giambi last season, Jeff Kent and Matt Stairs in 2008, and Moises Alou in 2007.
None of those guys did the trick with as many at-bats as Chipper has under his belt. The last player to do this with more career ABs than Chipper’s pre-Thursday total of 8,863 was Barry Bonds in 2007.
Bonds had six multi-homer games at 40 or older (with a little extra help). But he still ended up two such games shy of record, which belongs to Hank “The Honker” Sauer. I apologize to Cubs fans not hearing/remember about “The Mayor of Wrigley Field,” but Sauer was one of the game’s greatest power hitters to blossom past his physical prime.
It was kind of fitting that, after what seemed like the longest all-star break known to man, we were forced to wait an extra three hours and 40 minutes for baseball to resume Friday afternoon. Alfonso Soriano took advantage of the long pregame rain delay to transport his baseball-playing abilities back to about 2006.
Soriano hit two home runs, two doubles and drove in five during the game. He became the first Cub to post that exact line since the beginning of the Live Ball Era. The five RBIs tied a career high. He became the seventh Cub to record four extra-base hits in a multi-HR game. Aramis Ramirez did it twice. And Soriano became the eighth Cub — and the first player this year — to get four extra-base hits in his only four at-bats of a game. Plus, the Cubs got the win, 8-1.
So I guess that’s the good news.
The bad news is that the Cubs are still on the hook to pay a 36-year-old defensive liability with a full no-trade clause, whose speed and power have declined greatly with age, $54 million through 2014.
Games like the one at Wrigley on Wednesday just make me giddy. Every baseball game has some measure of quirk to it, but the lopsided results that generate all kinds of crazy numbers that I wish I could tangibly swim in every morning. First, some facts about today’s accomplishments from the Metropolitans:
- Those 17 runs were the most produced in a game by the Mets in more than 18 months.
- That margin of victory was New York’s largest since another 17-1 game back in 1999 at the spacious Astrodome. That was a six-hit, three-homer night for the immortal Edgardo Alfonzo. And actually, the Mets have scored exactly 17 runs four times in franchise history. Three of those four games had a 17-1 final score.
- As HardBallTalk has pointed out, David Wright, Ike Davis, Scott Hairston and Daniel Murphy helped the Mets become the first team since 2007 and just the fourth since 1918 to have a quartet with four RBIs each in a single game. It was the third time this season that the Mets had a trio of players record three hits each.
- Scott Hairston collected as many RBIs in one at-bat — a sixth-inning grand slam — as he had in his previous 58 at-bats. But he’s got nothing on my long-lost cousin Daniel Murphy. Read more…