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.
Even when baseball’s regular season starts in March, it can’t get here fast enough. Only two days remain until we finally enter the 2011 edition of The Show, so let’s throw out some basic predictions, starting with each division. Feel free to attach your own win-loss total.
American League East
1. Boston Red Sox:
The only way I don’t see them claiming the best record in the AL is if they can’t get anything out of the vets in their rotation — Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka. If those guys don’t improve on their sub-par 2010 numbers, then this might be more of a struggle than I expect. Their offensive lineup is just too lethal to bet against.
2. New York Yankees:
There’s no doubt they will be mixing and matching with their starting rotation all season. But the Yankees led baseball in runs scored last season despite some down years. If the likes of Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and Jorge Posada can just come back to their career averages — and I don’t see why not — this team will win the wild card. Also, the Yankees should have the most effective bullpen in the division.
3. Tampa Bay Rays:
The Rays still have enough to be competitive without Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena and basically a brand-new cast in the bullpen. The starting rotation should be formidable, especially if Jeremy Hellickson continues what he started last season. But this team is going to lose a lot of games late and there will be an inevitable drop in offensive production.
4. Toronto Blue Jays:
Toronto can make a push for third place if Brett Cecil and Jesse Litsch can hold it together in the rotation behind Ricky Romero and the currently injured Brandon Morrow. They’ll hit, but I don’t think the Blue Jays have enough quality depth with their starters or relievers.
5. Baltimore Orioles:
The Orioles are going lose a lot of ballgames, but with Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, Mark Reynolds, Vladimir Guerrero Adam Jones, post-hype sleeper Matt Wieters and others, they’ll make sure to lose a lot of wildly entertaining 12-10 ballgames.