So here we are. It all comes down to this: game 7 of the World Series. Nine innings to figure out whether the Chicago Cubs or Cleveland Indians deserve to be crowned the best team of 2016. Two teams with the longest droughts in MLB history of 108 and 68 years respectively. One fan base will party well into the night; the other will want to forget that tonight even happened.
The Indians are hoping to win their third championship in franchise history after triumphing in 1948 against the Boston Braves and 1920 when they beat the Brooklyn Robins (Dodgers) 5-2. The Cubs are also looking for their third World Series win in their history after winning back-to-back titles in 1907 & 1908, both coming against the Detroit Tigers.
There have been 36 World Series game sevens, the most recently one being two years ago when Madison Bumgarner had an eight out save to deliver the San Francisco Giants victory against the Royals. In those game 7s, the National League has won 22 overall including four of the last five dating back to 1997. The first World Series game seven was played in 1909, the year after the Cubs won their last World Series title.
SO FAR THIS SERIES
Heading into game six it certainly looked like the Cubs had the momentum even though they only won game five by the score line of 3-2. If there was any question as to who was in control last night, there’s absolutely no doubting that fact now. All the momentum tonight will be in the visitor’s clubhouse after Chicago won game six 9-3.
The Cubbies put the result beyond doubt very early on Tuesday night after scoring three runs in the first inning and then four runs in the third inning. Kris Bryant got things going with his second homer of the postseason before Addison Russell stunned the home faithful as he blasted a grand slam to left-center field in the fourth inning. In doing so, the Cubs shortstop became the second-youngest player ever to hit a grand slam during a World Series game. The only player younger than Russell was none other than Mickey Mantle.
Sandwiched in between all that was a moment of miscommunication between Tyler Naquin and Lonnie Chisenhall on a simple fly ball to the outfield by Russell in the opening inning. Neither of Cleveland’s two outfielders made the catch as both Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist came around to score.
Earlier in the series, the teams split the opening two games before Cleveland took control of things as they won game 3 1-0 and then backed that up the following night with a 7-2 victory.
Chicago’s lineup finally came alive last night for the first time since game 5 of the NLCS. They scored nine runs on 13 hits as Kris Bryant went 4-for-5 with a home run, while Anthony Rizzo was 3-for-5 with a home run and a pair of runs batted in and Addison Russell went 2-for-5 with a home run and a double as he drove in six runs to equal a World Series record.
Joe Maddon decides to change things up in the batting order as he promoted DH Kyle Schwarber to the two-spot in the lineup, pushing Bryant, Rizzo and Ben Zobrist down a spot. Addison Russell also became the first shortstop to hit in four different spots in the lineup having started the series batting eighth before also hitting ninth, sixth and fifth.
Jason Heyward may have gone 0-for-4, but his defence in right field was invaluable last night while Willson Contreras and Jake Arrieta looked to be on the same page from the outset.
The Cubs put six runs on Josh Tomlin in just two and 1/3 innings as they put the game beyond doubt very early on. Tonight’s going to be tougher though because they have to face up to Corey Kluber for the third time in this series. After Kluber, you can bet they’ll face no one except Bryan Shaw, Cody Allen and Andrew Miller, even if that may be for six or seven innings. Like last night, early runs are going to be paramount if they want to have success tonight. In a winner-take-all game seven, they have to be prepared to scrap away for even just one run.
Cleveland’s lineup could look a little different tonight after the miscommunication between Tyler Naquin and Lonnie Chisenhall during the first inning last night at Progressive Field. One has to feel as though Rajai Davis will play an important part because of his defence, speed, and the fact that Naquin is four-for-23 in the postseason, with only one hit in the World Series. Brandon Guyer could also be in the starting lineup for defence, though that will give the Cubs the platoon advantage on two occasions against both Davis and Guyer.
Second baseman Jason Kipnis is pretty hot right now as game four and game six have delivered him two three-hit games including a couple of homers. He was the only Indians hitter to do any real damage last night, with Mike Napoli, Jose Ramirez and Roberto Perez the only other guys in the lineup to deliver a knock.
Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez had two of the six hits against Hendricks in game 3, while Carlos Santana drew a pair of walks.
RHP KYLE HENDRICKS
Chicago would probably have been happy to have any one of Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta or Kyle Hendricks on the mound in a winner-takes-all game 7. In the end, it will be the latter who has the responsibility of shutting down the Cleveland offence for the second time in this series.
Hendricks started game three at Wrigley Field on Friday night and pitched a very effective 4 1/3 innings, as he didn’t allow a run on six hits while walking two and punching out six. The Cubs ended up losing that game on a Coco Crisp pinch-hit RBI single in the seventh inning.
The Cubs right-hander has been good all postseason, never allowing more than two runs in any of his four starts. He’s combined to throw 20.2 innings, giving up just three runs as opposing hitters have just a .211 batting average against him. Hendricks does have 17 strikeouts in those four starts but isn’t likely to overpower anyone. Instead, he relies on keeping the ball on the ground and letting the infielders behind him do most of the work.
During the regular season, Hendricks led the majors with a 2.13 ERA as he went 16-8 in a career-high 190 innings. He also allowed a career-low 6.7 hits per nine innings, good for third in the big leagues while also striking out 170 and walking 44.
With the likes of Hector Rondon, Aroldis Chapman, Jon Lester and John Lackey all available to pitch in this game, Hendricks only needs to get through four or five solid innings. With everything on the line, you can bet that Joe Maddon will go to the bullpen at the first sign of trouble.
That means that any opportunities the Indians could have against Hendricks will be few and far between, so they may rely a little on the long ball to do some damage. The 26-year-old only gave up two home runs in one start against St. Louis this season, so it’s unlikely there’s going to be many pitches to hit.
RHP COREY KLUBER
Finally, we arrive at the game that Cleveland has anticipated for the entire postseason. After winning the AL Central well before the final day of the season, the Indians had the luxury of lining up their rotation they way they wanted it to be. Knowing the Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco wouldn’t be available to start this postseason, Terry Francona and his staff decided to go with three starters in their rotation for the entire postseason, and ensured that their ace Corey Kluber would be available to pitch games one, four and seven of a possible World Series.
Here we are, Kluber already 2-0 with a 0.75 ERA in his two starts during the fall classic. Now he looks to become the first pitcher (10th overall) to win three starts in a World Series since Detroit’s Mickey Logich did so in 1968 against St. Louis. If he can join that group of elite arms, Kluber in doing so would help deliver the city of Cleveland a World Series championship they have coveted for many years.
The Cubs lineup has simply had no answer to the Tribe’s right-hander, who has dominated them to the tune of a .205 batting average against with 15 strikeouts and just one walk.
Kluber has already won four games this postseason as he’s given up all of three runs in 30 1/3 innings, striking out a whopping 35 hitters at a rate of nearly 10.5 per nine innings. Toronto was the only team to provide any obstacle, pounding two runs and four hits off the right-hander during game 4 of the American League Championship Series.
The Chicago bench wasn’t needed at all last night, and Joe Maddon will be hoping that it probably stays that way tonight as well. He’ll want to keep most of his starters in the game even if the Cubs go down early, though Jorge Soler could be valuable as a bat off the bench. Albert Almora Jr. is once again a really strong defensive outfielder and Joe Maddon might choose to put him in left field late in the game, while Chris Coghlan offers some versatility. Catchers Miguel Montero and David Ross are the other two sitting there if the situation arises.
One would have to expect that Rajai Davis would be starting the game in center field after the blunders from Tyler Naquin last night. Brandon Guyer could also be in the starting lineup in right field if Francona wants to prioritise defence. If that’s the case, he’ll have the option of using Lonnie Chisenhall’s bat off the bench in a close game late, while Michael Martinez and Yan Gomes could also be used for defensive purposes.
Joe Maddon ended up going with Aroldis Chapman for 1 1/3 innings last night as the fire-baller threw 20 pitches. He’s going to be able to potentially throw as many as two innings tonight, though, as Pedro Strop may also be called upon after a solid 2/3 of an inning in game 6. Outside of those two, Maddon has proven that he doesn’t trust many of his other relievers in the bullpen so we may even see a combination of Jon Lester and John Lackey in relief.
After the game blew out early on Tuesday night, the Cubs did Cleveland a favour because they gave Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and Andrew Miller another day of rest. With Miller not having pitched in the last three days and Shaw and Allen either of the last two, that trio is going to be very well rested and could potentially be capable of throwing seven innings between them. Dan Otero essentially put himself out of the mix tonight after allowing the grand slam to Addison Russell in game 6.
Unlike Chicago, the Indians probably won’t be using Trevor Bauer out of the bullpen so that Danny Salazar could be called upon for an inning in a desperate situation.
Tonight’s game is going to must-watch television, and I absolutely cannot wait for game 7 to start. With the history of these two organisations, this game seven is perhaps one of the most exciting in some time. The Cubs have been a great team all year while Cleveland enjoyed a really good run in the postseason to put them in this position.
We’ve got the MLB ERA leader in Kyle Hendricks going up against a guy who’s dominated the Cubs lineup twice already in the World Series, none other than Corey Kluber. The Cleveland Cavaliers came back from 3-1 down against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA finals earlier this year, and now the city of Cleveland is on the other end of the spectrum as the Cubs attempt the run the Cavs successfully executed. Make sure you’re glued to a TV tonight because history is going to made one way or another.
You can catch all the action in Game Seven from Wrigley Field at 8:00 pm ET tonight on FOX.
May you enjoy the final game of the 2016 season. Let the offseason bring plenty of excitement and hope for your favorite team, and if you’re a Cubs or Indians fan, may the odds be in your favor tonight.