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.
“What’s wrong with Corey Kluber?”
Eighteen strikeouts in eight innings against the best team in baseball? I think he’s fine now.
Kluber came into Wednesday’s start versus the Cardinals having already allowed nearly 40 percent of the earned run total from his Cy Young Award-winning 2014 season. Sure, he had been a little unlucky with a .373 BABIP according to Baseball-Reference, but that didn’t really matter to most baseball enthusiasts. Kluber’s rough start had people questioning his meteoric rise from league-average pitcher to one of the league’s best. I’m sure the “F” word was thrown around over the past couple of weeks.
And then: Eight innings, one hit, no runs, no walks … 18 strikeouts.
Maybe those snickering will take notice now that Kluber has thrown perhaps the best eight-inning start in Major League Baseball history.
That’s not hyperbole. If you go by game score, Kluber’s score of 98 is the highest from any pitcher in a start that went less than nine innings. The previous high belonged to Yu Darvish, who compiled a score of 96 during his near-perfect game against the Astros a couple of years ago. But at least he got a couple of outs in the ninth that evening. The previous high game score for a pitcher who was pulled after the eighth inning was Johan Santana’s 95 in 2007.
The irrational fan in me definitely wanted to see Kluber come out for the ninth inning. 20 strikeouts? 21?? This could be history! Just skip his next start! Give him nine days to recover!
Alas, after 113 pitches and not allowing the Cardinals to get a runner to second base all night long, the rational call was made. The job was certainly done well.
The 18 strikeouts are notable by themselves, other than the obvious fact that someone was able to strike out major league hitters 18 times in 24 chances.
Those 18 Ks are the most from any American League pitcher since Roger Clemens did the same in 1998 (Ben Sheets had been the most recent pitcher in either league to reach 18 strikeouts; he did that in 2004). The day after Roger’s outing, Kerry Wood struck out 16, and Randy Johnson K’d 16 two days after that.
With Michael Pineda’s 16-strikeout performance from Sunday, he and Kluber are the first pitchers to strike out at least 16 batters within a week’s span since that trio 17 years ago. Maybe another overwhelming pitching performance that creates a lot of wind energy is just a few sunrises away?
Regardless, rest assured that there is nothing wrong with Corey Kluber, other than what he just did to the St. Louis Cardinals.
After being pulverized and demoralized this past weekend in Detroit, the carcass of the Cleveland Indians returned home tonight. Now, don’t ask me why powers that be in Major League Baseball would sanction a game in which one team was obviously deceased, but they did. So the Twins took on what was left of the Indians. And it didn’t take long to realize that, yep, the Indians are dead.
With help from an error by Jason Kipnis, Minnesota scored 10 runs in the top of the second inning. The inning started out with back-to-back home runs from Josh Willingham and Justin Morneau
Quick side question: How many people realize that Willingham has 29 home runs?
Anyway, those were the first two runs. But four batters later, the Indians were faced with men on the corners with two outs. Just retire Denard Span, and you’re still in the game.
It’s Monday. I spent all day trying to find/buy a new phone after my most recent one found the bottom of a toilet over the weekend — again. No dice yet.
There were no NBA or NHL playoffs games on today. In fact, the schedule for the Heat-Bulls series is simply ridiculous. Unfortunately, we have all been forced to become accustomed to that stalling layout with the NBA.
I thought there wouldn’t be anything of much interest to write about tonight.
Yes, I did get a new computer last week, thank you very much.
- When a pitcher with a 9.13 ERA posts a no-hitter, you know something weird has happened. But I think the weirdest stat — if you can call it that — I heard in the aftermath of Francisco Liriano’s piece of history was this: It was the first complete game of his entire pro career. That’s not just in the major leagues; Liriano didn’t throw a complete game in 110 minor-league starts. Obviously, the Twins handled him with kid gloves early on, and he’s had more valleys than peaks since coming back from 2006 Tommy John surgery. But considering how devastating his fastball-slider combination was when he came up, I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that he never went a full nine against players not good enough to make it to the big leagues.
Liriano starts again Tuesday. I haven’t heard from anyone who doesn’t think he will get shelled in that outing against Detroit.