Usually, a World Series matchup is anticipated for a lot of different reasons. This one has something that we rarely see, though: the team with the longest championship drought pitted against the team with the second-longest championship drought. In a few days, either the Cleveland Indians or Chicago Cubs will finally hold that trophy aloft for the first time in what must seem like forever.
Game 4 will be crucial in deciding the winner of this series. If Cleveland comes away with a 3-1 advantage, then life is going to be very difficult for the Cubs, but if Chicago’s bats can come alive again as they did in game two, then we’ll likely be looking at a seven-game series.
SO FAR THIS SERIES
This back-and-forth World Series continued last night as Cleveland took a 1-0 victory to lead the series 2-1. On a warm evening with the wind blowing out, it was expected that there’d be plenty of runs in game three, but that was not the case. A pinch-hit RBI single from Coco Crisp accounted for the only run of the game in the seventh inning.
Josh Tomlin, Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen combined to hurl nine innings of shutout ball, allowing just five hits while walking one.
Game 2 on Wednesday belonged to Chicago and in particular Kyle Schwarber. The Cubs DH went 2-for-4 with a walk and two. Trevor Bauer gave up two early runs in the first three innings.
Earlier Cleveland took the opening game of the World Series on the back of two home runs from catcher Roberto Perez. Corey Kluber was dominant on the mound as the Tribe racked up a postseason-high 15 strikeouts, nine of those coming from Kluber.
Game one winners have taken home the World Series title in 12 of the last 13 years, so the Cubs will have to defy history if they are to win here in 2016.
Carlos Santana started in left field last night, and the decision certainly didn’t do any harm. He walked twice in his three plate appearances and caught the only ball that came his way during the four and two-thirds innings he spent in the field.
He made 34 starts and played a total of 221 innings there between 2005 and 2006 while he was in A-ball in the Dodgers organisation, but had played just four innings in the outfield since making his major league debut with Cleveland in 2010. Those four innings came back on August 12th, 2012 as the Indians lost 14-1 at Fenway Park.
The other discussions have centered on the second baseman Jason Kipnis who barely hit a lick all postseason. He went just 1-for-19 with a home run during the ALCS against Toronto and is 2-for-12 with a double in this World Series. Cleveland doesn’t really have much choice other than to stick with Kipnis moving forward, though it’s within the realm of possibility that Michael Martinez could be given some time there if these issues continue.
With another right-handed starter on the mound tonight Tyler Naquin figures to get the start in center field once again, and with Santana a likely starter in left.
Plenty of the Cleveland hitters have had some experience against John Lackey throughout their careers, Rajai Davis going 12-for-35 with three doubles, a triple, and four RBIs. Mike Napoli, Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana each have a pair of hits against the right-hander throughout their careers, adding a double and two home runs.
After struggling to score runs in game 3, the Cubs lineup continued this up and down run of form that’s seen them have plenty of difficulties throughout this postseason. In their last 13 games, Chicago hasn’t scored between two and four runs.
On five occasions they’ve plated one run or less, but in the other eight games, the Cubs have managed 52 runs. That inconsistency has haunted them in the World Series, unable to do anything in either of games one or three. Put simply. They’ve been comprehensively beaten by most of the Indians pitchers.
The other part of this equation is that the Cubs top three hitters (Dexter Fowler, Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo) have gone five-for-35 with a double, four walks and 11 strikeouts this World Series. For a trio that combined to drive in 259 runs during the regular season, they need to start stepping up and put the team on their back. They’ve got the ability to get hot and do some damage on the scoreboard early, but we’re yet to see that against the Indians.
The Cubs also continue to struggle with runners in scoring position, now sitting at four-for-30 in the series. The positive thing is that they’re getting plenty of opportunities to score runs, but it’s important they start capitalizing on their chances with more regularity.
In game one Ben Zobrist was the only hitter to succeed against Corey Kluber, picking up a single and a double. Kyle Schwarber also doubled off of Kluber, but as we know he’s going to be sitting on the pine for all but one plate appearance tonight.
RHP COREY KLUBER
In that game, the Cubs managed seven hits against the right-hander but were 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position, and they left nine runners on base. Ben Zobrist was 3-for-4 after Kluber worked six scoreless innings, giving up four hits while striking out nine.
Once a throw-in prospect from St. Louis in the Jake Westbrook trade of the 2010 deadline, Kluber has established himself as one of the more consistent starting pitchers going around. This year he’s established himself as one of the most consistent pitchers in the American League, and Terry Francona feels very confident starting him on short rest.
After that great performance on Tuesday night, Kluber holds just a 0.74 ERA across his four starts and 24 1/3 innings thus far in the postseason. The only two runs he’s allowed both came in game 4 of the ALCS at the Rogers Center when the 30-year-old took the loss against Toronto.
The Cubs have will now have a better idea of what to expect from Kluber the second time around, so the Indians starter may have to make a few adjustments from game one to continue his earlier success.
RHP JOHN LACKEY
Unlike the Indians, Chicago has the luxury of having a fourth starter they can put out on the mound in this World Series. Lackey was signed to a two-year, $32 million deal last offseason for this exact moment.
The right-hander has been starting postseason games since he was 23 years old, totaling 22 starts (25 appearances) in eight postseason campaigns. Lackey won World Series rings with the Angels in 2002 and with Boston in 2013, pitching in each of the last four postseasons.
Overall, Lackey is 8-5 with a 3.26 ERA during those trips to the postseason, hurling 135 1/3 innings while striking out 106 and walking 44. In six World Series appearances (4 starts) he has a 3.42 ERA, while this postseason he’s allowed five runs in eight innings while taking the win in game four of both the NLDS and NLCS.
During the regular season, Lackey finished with an 11-8 record in 29 starts, holding a 3.35 ERA as he struck out 180 batters while walking 53. An All-Star in 2007, his 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings was the equal highest rate of his 14-year career. He also allowed a run in all but four games this year, with three or more runs plated in 11 outings.
Having only started two games this postseason, the Indians hitters will have the opportunity to score some early runs against a guy who hasn’t pitched much recently.
Terry Francona emptied his bench in game three and did so with great effect. Coco Crisp came in to pinch-hit for Andrew Miller during a key spot in the top of the eighth inning and delivered what would be the only run of the game. He drove a pitch from Carl Edwards Jr. out to right field, allowing Michael Martinez to go the game winner.
Outfielders Brandon Guyer and Rajai Davis were also installed into the game for defense, while Yan Gomes replaced Roberto Perez behind the plate for the final two innings of the game.
It was exactly as we expected from Cleveland, who don’t have any renowned power hitters in that bench mix. A combination of speed, defense and the ability to put the ball in play did the job last night, and we’re likely to see more of that in game four.
With Kyle Schwarber medically unable to play the field, he’s been limited to pinch-hit duties during these three games at Wrigley Field. Joe Maddon had promised to put him in a key situation off the bench, but the Cubs manager left things a little late last night as Schwarber came in with one out and no-one on in the bottom of the eighth inning.
There had been opportunities earlier in the game where Schwarber could have been utilized, but Maddon is a little restricted regarding whom he can pinch-hit for because of a lack of capable infielders on the bench.
Jason Heyward pinch-ran for Jorge Soler in the seventh inning and later reached on a Mike Napoli error in the ninth inning. Heyward’s defense is his best asset, but he hasn’t had an opportunity to show that side of things in the World Series as yet.
Miguel Montero got his first taste of the World Series during game 3, lining out in the fifth inning as he pinch-hit for Justin Grimm. Chris Coghlan also pinch-ran for Anthony Rizzo and would have played first base defensively if required.
One of the big talking points to come out of game three was when Andrew Miller stood in the on-deck circle ready to hit in the in the seventh inning. Coco Crisp would eventually pinch-hit for him and plate the winning run, but it’s a sign of exactly how reliant the Indians are on Miller that they’re prepared to let him hit to keep him on the mound.
He would finish the game without allowing a hit or run 1 1/3 innings as he struck out three on 17 pitches. There’s no doubt that Miller is easily the most talented reliever in this series, so having worked so little last night he’ll likely be able to throw multiple innings tonight if required.
Cody Allen also showed his worth at Wrigley Field, shutting things down with two outs in the eighth as he too struck out three batters.
Game two exposed the weaknesses of the rest of their bullpen, so we’re going to see a lot of Shaw, Miller, and Allen as the steaks get even higher for the rest of the series.
One guy who’s quietly impressed this postseason: Mike Montgomery. The left-hander who came over from Seattle on July 20th has allowed just four runs in 12 1/3 innings across eight games.
He’s pitched in each of the last two games and hasn’t allowed a run in 2 2/3 innings while giving Joe Maddon the option of multiple innings. In fact, Montgomery has pitched more than an inning in four of his appearances that includes a four-inning, one run effort against the Giants in game three of the Division Series.
The Cubs once again enter a game in desperate need of a win. They came through with the goods when down 1-0 on Wednesday night at Progressive Field, but the jury is still out over whether or not they can tie this World Series up once again.
Corey Kluber will pitch for the second time in this series, and that may be an advantage for Chicago, with most of their hitters now well aware of what to expect from the right-hander. On the other side of the coin is John Lackey, making his one and only appearance in this World Series. This game is exactly why the Cubs signed him during the offseason, and he’ll be eager to repay them with a victory in game four.
Cleveland seem to have a little bit of the mental edge after pulling out a nail-biting win last night. So perhaps that can flow through into tonight’s game as well, and they’ll be able to give Kluber the run support he needs to shut down the Cubs as was the case in the opening game of the series.
You can catch all the action in Game Four from Wrigley Field at 8:00 pm ET tonight on FOX.