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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs Game 7 - All or Nothing






7 Things to Look for in Game 7

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The Chicago Cubs smoked the Cleveland Indians 9-3 in Game 6 of the World Series, setting up a Game 7 for the ages.
Tuesday night's contest was all but over just a few minutes in, and was totally salted away by the third inning. For that, the Cubs could thank an offensive outburst that delighted the visiting faithful, and a highlight reel of terrific pitches by Jake Arrieta.
The onslaught started in the first inning. After red-hot soft-tosser Josh Tomlin made quick work of Dexter Fowler and Kyle Schwarber, he got ahead of Kris Bryant 0-2, and looked ready to close out a sparkling opening frame.
Tomlin's calling card is command. After posting an ugly 4.89 ERA with a league-leading 35 homers allowed through the first five months of the season, Tomlin became unhittable thereafter, flashing a 1.93 ERA and allowing just one long ball since Sept. 1. But the pitcher who'd made a living out of painting corners and mixing pitches perfectly over the past two months delivered a gigantic meatball to the likely National League Most Valuable Player, hanging an 0-2 curve that Bryant walloped to Akron.
Everything unraveled quickly from there. Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist both stroked solid singles, the latter coming on another hanging curveAddison Russell then lofted a flyball to right-center that should have ended the threat. But Tyler Naquinand Lonnie Chisenhall got their signals crossed, allowing the ball to fall between them for a two-run "double." The two-run blow crushed the Indians' hopes, while also reminding us that baseball's conventions for counting errors are dumb, and that ERA can be a silly stat.
The Cubs put the game to bed in the third. After a leadoff Kyle Schwarber walk and a near-second defensive disaster by Naquin (who fell down as Chisenhall cut in front of him to catch a Bryant pop-fly), Cleveland manager Terry Francona called the bullpen to get skilled right-handed reliever Dan Otero loose. Tomlin stayed in the game as Rizzo laced another solid single, and stayed even longer as Zobrist smacked another. Otero was so good this year, he'd held both right- and left-handed hitters to numbers that resembled that of a decent-hitting pitcher. This being the postseason, craziness ensued anyway.
Staked to a 7-0 lead, Arrieta cruised to a win. And while he carried a no-hitter into the sixth in Game 2, you could argue he did a better job of executing his pitches in Game 6.
Just as Tomlin ran into trouble almost right away, Arrieta started dealing right away. He gunned a 1-2 fastball by Carlos Santana to lead off the bottom of the first, ringing up his first strikeout on a 97-mph heater, his second-hardest pitch of the entire 2016 season. His fastball kept working as he pitched deeper into the game. An 0-2 heater to Jose Ramirez came in at 95 with big, riding movement, inducing a weak swing-and-a-miss for strike three. Arrieta victimized Lonnie Chisenhall on two nasty fastballs, a 95-mph paint job on the inside corner for strike one, and more 95-mph heat on the outside edge for strike three. Coco Crisp banged a well-placed 2-1 fastball into the turf to end the second, then Tyler Naquin got eaten up by back-to-back wicked heaters to start the third.
Per ESPN Stats & Info, Joe West was the fourth-stingiest umpire in the league when it came to calling strikes this year, and by far the most reluctant ump when it came to calling low strikes. No matter. When West robbed Arrieta of a sixth-inning strikeout that nearly any other human being would have called with ease, the big right-hander came back with a nasty curveball to put away Mike Napoli. Throw in Rizzo's first homer of the World Series and a boneheaded baserunning blunder by Roberto Perezin the ninth, and you got a true blowout.
With everything riding on one last contest, here are seven factors we're watching for Game 7.

Javier Baez, el asombroso

Defensively, Javier Baez has been nothing short of amazing this postseason. USATSI
In Spanish, "asombroso" translates to "amazing," so really, it's a far more poetic-sounding word without the translation, fitting for a player who's never, ever boring.
We already covered Baez's exceptional tagging ability in Game 5. In Game 6, the second baseman's signature play was one that he made look easy, even though plenty of other keystoners would have struggled to make the play at all. With one out in the bottom of the eighth, pinch-hitter Yan Gomes rapped a grounder to Russell, setting up what should have been a routine double play. But Russell flung a low throw toward second, a tough snag given how close the Cubs shortstop was to the bag. Baez speared the throw easily, then smoothly pivoted to turn the inning-ending twin killing. The best defensive players make spectacular plays, and also make difficult plays look routine. With a glove on his hand, Baez does both.
At the plate on the other hand, he's been spectacularly frightening to watch. Coming into Game 6, Baez had gone 3 for 21 in the World Series, with nine strikeouts, no walks, and no extra-base hits; go back to include the rest of the postseason, and he'd rung up a ludicrous 39 swinging strikes, or one for every six pitches he'd seen this October. Baez didn't exactly set the world on fire Tuesday night, going 1 for 4 with a single and two strikeouts. But he did show a slightly better approach, laying off an 0-2 breaking ball in the dirt in the second inning. Granted, the next pitch resulted in a 4-3 groundout on a nifty play by Jason Kipnis. But Baez's ability to avoid reprising his Pedro Cerrano impression for at least one at-bat pointed to some baby steps in the right direction.
If Baez can give the Cubs his usual outstanding defense in Game 7, that could give the team a big lift. If he can somehow square up a pitch or two the way he did before the Indians turned him into a World Series strikeout machine, that would be a bonus of asombroso proportions.

Corey Kluber on short rest. Again.

The Cubs are going to see Corey Kluber for a third time. USATSI
You wouldn't have known the Indians ace was working on three days' rest in Game 4 just by looking at him. Kluber plowed through six impressive innings Saturday night, allowing just a single run on five hits and one walk, striking out six and needing only 81 pitches to record those 18 outs.
Even if he's on a pitch limit again in Game 7, the Cubs should have reason to fear him. That's because Kluber has complemented his wipeout breaking ball with an unhittable two-seam fastball during this World Series. This Game 4 bit of wickednessagainst Baez exemplified the sharp, late break that Kluber's slider/curve/something or other can deliver. If Kluber can mix in the Greg Maddux-like two-seamer he unleashed in Game 1, the Cubs could be in trouble.

Kyle Hendricks gets another start in a closeout game.

Few pitchers in recent years pitched better in a playoff series-ending game than Hendricks did in Game 6 of the NLCS against the Dodgers. The soft-spoken right-hander outshone Clayton Kershaw in that contest, firing 7 1/3 dazzling innings, striking out six batters and allowing just two hits without a single walk. If that had been a regular-season game, Cubs skipper Joe Maddon probably would have let Hendricks try to go the distance, instead of pulling him after only 88 pitches.
The Cubs wound up losing Hendricks's first World Series start, though you could hardly blame him for that. Though he lasted only 4 1/3 innings, Hendricks worked around six hits and two walks, fanning six Indians and keeping the game scoreless. He found periodic success with his biting changeup, including this inning-ending dandy against Napoli. When he's going well, Hendricks brilliantly mixes that changeup with a bamboozling two-seamer of his own, a pitch that often doesn't even crack 90 mph, but still gives hitters fits. If Hendricks is on his game, the Indians might not necessarily strike out a ton; what they will do is hit a bunch of harmless grounders and popups, again and again.

Expect lots of Bryan Shaw, Andrew Miller, and Cody Allen.

The Indians' three headliner relievers never got into Game 6, a perfectly reasonable approach by Francona given how quickly the Cubs blew the game open. Between Kluber being a mortal lock to pitch better than Tomlin just did, and this being Game 7, Francona's likely going to use his big bullpen weapons as aggressively as humanly possible.
With another summer-like forecast on Wednesday (the projected high is 73 degrees; it was 71 at game time on Tuesday), the ball could carry well in Game 7. But the lethal sliders thrown by Shaw and Miller and the knuckle-curve of death offered by Allen could make squaring the ball up an extremely difficult task for Cubs hitters. If Chicago's going to pull this one out, you get the sense it might be something like a 3-2 or 2-1 final.

Expect more Aroldis Chapman. How much remains to be seen.

With two on and two out in the seventh and the middle of the Indians order coming up, Maddon summoned his triple-digit-pumping closer to douse the fire. That Chapman did, inducing an inning-ending groundout by Lindor that happened because the ace reliever actually hustled to first to cover this time, after botching a similar play in Game 5.
That decision to go to Chapman was defensible, even with a five-run lead. What made far less sense was bringing Chapman back out for the eighth, with that same five-run lead, not to mention a lineup full of sluggers who'd been swinging hot bats all night and had a chance to tack on more runs in the ninth. When Chapman closed out the eighth while needing only 15 pitches to record four outs, you had to figure that was certainly the point to offer a handshake and send him to the showers. Nope. Maddon inexplicably sent him back out for the ninth with a seven-run lead, watched as he walked leadoff hitter Brandon Guyer on five pitches, and only then finally decided to end Chapman's night.
You better believe Aroldis Chapman will be availaable Wednesday night. USA
We can acknowledge that Maddon up close has a better feel for how strong his pitcher feels than we do from a distance. Still, the notion that Chapman should need to throw any more pitches with the Cubs up seven and three outs from victory boggles the mind. Maybe one more batter doesn't make a lick of difference in Game 7, and Chapman's able to give the Cubs two lights-out innings (or more), the way he did in Game 5. But if Chapman's ability to go long and strong was even slightly diminished by pitching near the end of a blowout, that's on Maddon for being at once too cute, and too frightened.

Jon Lester's probably going to get the ball.

With the caveat that Maddon almost surely won't go to him with a runner on first (and thus a huge threat to steal), expect Lester to see action at some point in Game 7. Even if it was just a subconscious move, it's possible that Maddon's cavalier approach to Chapman's Game 6 usage came with the knowledge that Lester -- and even Game 4 starter John Lackey -- could throw meaningful pitches in Game 7.
Combine those two potential starters-in-relief with Chapman's wipeout velocity, and a cast of thousands that could include underrated rookie Carl Edwards Jr., the short-relief tandem of Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon, lefty long man Mike Montgomery, and several others, and Maddon could deploy a kitchen sink approach similar to Francona's, making every at-bat an agonizing one for Cleveland.

The Indians outfield is bad. This could be a problem.

Michael Brantley's name might seem like a distant memory now that the calendar has flipped over to November. But Dr. Smooth was once an integral part of the Indians' attack, an All-Star left fielder who followed a brilliant .327/.385/.506 performance in 2014 with a .310/.379/.480 effort in 2015. Sadly, he lasted just 11 games this season, before a shoulder injury knocked him out 'til next spring.
Jose Ramirez has filled the lineup hole left behind by Brantley's putting up strikingly similar numbers. But the outfield has looked worse and worse as the season has gone on. Rookie Tyler Naquin started his rookie season hitting like a mad man, posting an off-the-charts .335/.399/.629 line through his first 70 big-league games. He's gone ice cold since then, batting just .234/.331/.331 from Aug. 1 to the end of the regular season, .190/.227/.286 in his first nine playoff games, then striking out twice in two at-bats Tuesday night, to go with his costly first-inning defensive miscue. Lonnie Chisenhall has looked rough defensively at times too, most notably in letting a Jorge Soler popup drop for a triple at Wrigley; he's also stopped hitting entirely since an impressive ALDS against the Red Sox, with just five hits in 30 at-bats. Coco Crisp has been the team's most productive outfielder this postseason, though you wonder if the smart bet is on the 37-year-old coming up big in Game 7, or reverting back to the mediocre form that produced an underwhelming .231/.302/.397 line this season.
The job that Francona and the Indians have done in getting this far is borderline miraculous, given the injuries suffered by Brantley, Carlos CarrascoDanny Salazar, Yan Gomes, and other key contributors. In a winner-take-all scenario, you wonder if the Tribe has one more rousing performance left with their thinned-out roster, and their skeleton-crew outfield.

Baseball in Wonderland: History, title on line in Game 7 that will be unlike any other

CLEVELAND—Live bear cubs, magicians, penguins, mimes, a 1979 conversion van with shag carpeting. Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon runs a baseball team the way Bill Murray might if they ever let the Cubs’ biggest celebrity fan be in charge. But even The Great Maddonini, as his forefathers were known in their neighborhood west of Rome, outdid himself in Game 6 of the World Series Tuesday. Forget Murray; Maddon went all Carl Spackler on the Fall Classic.
Needing to win two games against Cleveland, not just one, and two days removed from pushing closer Aroldis Chapman for a career-high eight outs in Game 5, Maddon summoned his closer with two outs in the seventh inning with a five-run lead and sent him back out for the ninth with a seven-run lead.
Warning: Do not try to manage along with Maddon. It is known to cause dizziness, nausea and dry mouth. Consult your physician if you can actually figure out what he’s doing.
“No, I gave up a long time ago,” said Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo. “But you know, [Red first baseman] Joey Votto told me a while ago that the more Chappy pitches the stronger he gets. I’ve seen it.”
Said Chapman, who has thrown 62 pitches in the past three days, through a translator, “I do feel stronger the more I pitch. I can’t say if that is actually the case, but I do feel stronger.”
Maddon managed the games in Chicago with a wool ski cap atop his noggin. Tuesday night you had to check if his choice of headgear this time was a top hat affixed with a tag that read, “In This Style, 10/6.” Through the looking glass went Maddon and his Cubs, all the way to the sweetest words in all of sports: World Series Game 7.
Game 7 is the ultimate sports event because no sport distills more hard work into one night, and never has it been truer than it will be Wednesday night. The Indians and Cubs have combined to play 413 games over nine months this year, and between them have waited 176 years for their next world championship, a record combined drought for any of the 112 World Series.
This is baseball as written by Steinbeck. Since they last won the World Series, the Cubs, whose last title came in 1908, have been within one win of a championship just once: Game 7 in 1945 at Wrigley Field, which they lost to Detroit. The Indians, whose most recent championship was in 1948, have been within one win of a title four times. They are 0-3 in those games, losing Game 7 to the Marlins and two in this series. Somebody has to win tonight—unless the rain in the forecast intercedes.
The madness of Game 6 turned out just fine for Maddon—Chapman threw only 20 pitches despite what could have been an unnecessary 40-plus-pitch outing—because Javier Baez has the hands of a jeweler and Rizzo is a beast of a hitter. Baez turned a wondrous double play in the eighth by catching a poor feed from shortstop Addison Russell at his ankles and, without bothering to slow his movements, fired a sidearm strike to first on the run. It was the equivalent of running across four lanes of Michigan Avenue traffic while throwing a baseball through the open back window of a parked car. The double play saved Chapman extra pitches, as did a two-run home run Rizzo hit in the top of the ninth that made the score 9-2.
But why did Maddon bring Chapman into a 7-2 game in the first place with seven outs to go, even if there were two runners on base?
“The middle of the batting order was coming up: [Francisco] Lindor, [Mike] Napoli, [Jose] Ramirez possibly,” Maddon said. “So I thought the game could have been lost right there if we did not take care of it properly.”
Said Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio of his boss, “He’s attacking every at-bat to win the game. He got exactly the matchups he wanted. That’s why Joe’s Joe. He got exactly what he wanted. He wanted to stop it right there. And if we could hold it right there I think he felt pretty good that we could add two more points the way we were swinging the bats.”
I found it to be an unnecessary risk, one that showed a little anxiousness and a very little faith in his other relievers. The risk was that Chapman would get so extended that his effectiveness and length for a Game 7 would be compromised. Who would have been behind Chapman if he withered and couldn’t finish the job in Game 6? Bosio said Maddon would have matched up some combination of relievers righties Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm and Hector Rondon and lefty Travis Wood on Cleveland's hitters.
When Rizzo hit his homer to put Chicago up 9-2 with three outs to go, Maddon didn’t immediately move to the bullpen phone. Instead, he stood next to Bosio in the dugout and the two of them talked and talked and talked, looking for all the world like the Mad Hatter and the March Hare sitting down for tea. What was there to talk about?
“I told him that 92% of Chapman’s saves were in the 20-pitch window, so this was nothing for him at that point,” Bosio said. “We’ve got plenty of guys to match up against them in the ninth. He agreed.”
Maddon finally gave the go-ahead for Bosio to call the bullpen to get Strop warm. Chapman walked leadoff hitter Brandon Guyer in the ninth—as if to underscore the danger behind asking him to get seven outs and be strong for Game 7. By then, Strop was ready and Maddon brought him into the game.
Sure enough, as if to confirm Maddon’s trepidation about all relievers not named Chapman, Strop gave up an RBI single to Roberto Perez and needed relief help himself, as Wood came on to get the final out by inducing hot-hitting Jason Kipnis, who already had three hits and a home run on the night, to hit a foul pop-up near the leftfield stands that fell into the glove to Russell, who flipped the game ball into the crowd. Other than that miscue, Russell, whose two-run double in the first and grand slam in the third tied a World Series record with six RBIs before one-third of the game had been played, had a wonderful night.
“Do you know how much money Addie just tossed the stands?” Rizzo said. “I couldn’t believe it. Oh, well.”
Lewis Carroll would have loved this Game 7, seeing how far we have gone down the rabbit hole. Think of the narratives:
• The Cubs have $80 million of talent in their bullpen tonight, including Chapman ($11.325 million) and their other three starting pitchers in this postseason: World Series Game 5 winner Jon Lester ($25 million), Game 4 starter John Lackey ($16 million), and Game 6 winner Jake Arrieta ($10.7 million), who threw 102 pitches on Tuesday.
“Jake’s already talked to me to say he’s good to go,” Bosio said half an hour after Game 6. “He’s good for 20 pitches.” Said Arrieta, “My spikes will be on from the start.”
• Indians starter Corey Kluber is trying to become the first pitcher in a quarter of a century to win Game 7 while making his second straight start on short rest. The last do it was Jack Morris, who threw 10 shutout innings to win Game 7 for the Twins in 1991.
• To win the World Series, the Cubs are going to have to do something they haven’t done all series: hit Kluber and rested relievers Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen. No one else is likely to throw a pitch for Cleveland manager Terry Francona. Those four pitchers are 3-0 with a 0.72 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 25 innings in this World Series. Chicago is hitting .191 against Francona’s four best pitchers.
•​ Francona could become only the 11th manager in history to win three World Series, and only four of them would have done so faster than his 16 seasons: Walter Alston (10), Joe McCarthy and Casey Stengel (12) and Sparky Anderson (15).
•​ Francona will match Jack McKeon of the 2003 Marlins for using starters on short rest in the World Series most often in the wild card era (1995-2016): four times.
• Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks, a former economics major at Dartmouth, could become the first Ivy Leaguer to start and win a World Series Game 7. Hendricks threw shutout ball to clinch the 2009 Ivy League Championship Series and he threw shutout ball to clinch the 2016 National League pennant.
• No road team has finished off a comeback from a 3-games-to-1 deficit since the 1979 Pirates.
“I can’t wait to see the anxiety level of our fans back home,” said catcher David Ross, who will be playing his last game before he retires. “Game 7!”
It’s not just the fans that will be nervous. Understand what Tuesday was like for Arrieta.
“The whole day just grinds on you,” Arrieta said. “Everywhere you go, everywhere you turn, all you hear about is the game. It’s like I can’t wait to get to the park to hit the weight room and start my routine and start sweating. And then the game isn’t a seven o’clock game, it’s an eight o’clock game. So you wait even longer.
“I’m telling you, it wears on you. When I was on the mound I was jittery. The ball was in my hands and I was jittery, just from the emotions and all the noise around you all day long. I had to calm myself out there. It’s not easy.”
And that was for a Game 6. Tonight will be even noisier. We get the best day in sports. We get a Game 7. This is only the 38th sudden death game in World Series history (including a Game 8 in 1912 that was caused by a tie game), but none of them have been like this one. Riding on this one are 176 combined years of dust bowl baseball for the Cubs and the Indians, and with just one win, the heavens will open up with a deluge of happiness for one of them.
The beauty of baseball is in its forgiveness. The rotation of the batting order and the length of the season define the game as one of continual chances. Failed at-bats and lost games are easily tossed aside for the chance to get it right the next time, or the time after that, and so on.
Game 7 blows up that bedrock of baseball. Game 7 is about urgency and history. Until tonight, you could argue that the most meaningful game in baseball history—the one with the most import riding on the outcome—was Game 7 of the 1975 World Series.
The Cincinnati Reds had not won the World Series since 1940, and the reputation of the Big Red Machine was muted by four playoff series defeats in the previous five years. The Boston Red Sox had not won the World Series since 1918.
More importantly, this was the last game before free agency and, because of three days of rainouts, the first Game 7 telecast in midweek prime time. The game drew a staggering audience of 71 million people, convincing networks that people would watch live sports events, not just entertainment shows, during the week and after the dinner hour.
This game tonight is even bigger just in terms of what is on the line historically. Separately both cursed and beloved, the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians intersect in the most dramatic way possible. Never before has more history—more yearning and hoping—been on the line in one baseball game.

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