Biggest storylines for Cubs, Indians as World Series moves to Chicago
- From where Kyle Schwarber will play to the Indians' suddenly mortal bullpen to a pace of play that must make Rob Manfred want to cry, here's what's to keep an eye on as the World Series takes a break after Games 1 and 2.
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With the World Series tied at one game apiece, the Cubs and Indians are headed to Wrigley Field for Game 3, where Kyle Hendricks will go up against Josh Tomlin at 8:00 p.m. ET on Friday night. While both teams take Thursday off to travel and rest, let's take a look at the Fall Classic's four biggest storylines as the action shifts to Chicago.
Schwarbing the outfield
Kyle Schwarber has already justified his presence at the World Series, not to mention the persistence with which he rehabbed his left knee after tearing his ACL and MCL during Chicago's second game on April 7 and missing the balance of the regular season. The 23-year-old slugger, who hit .246/.355/.487 with 16 homers in 69 games last year before adding another five homers in nine postseason games, is 3-for-7 with a double, two walks and two RBIs while serving as the Cubs' DH. His double off the wall in Game 1 was one of just four hits Chicago collected off Corey Kluber, and he battled Andrew Miller for six pitches before drawing a walk in the two lefties' first encounter in the seventh inning, no small matter given Schwarber's struggles (.143/.213/.268 with five walks and 27 strikeouts in 61 PA) against southpaws. In Game 2 he collected RBI singles against Trevor Bauer and Bryan Shaw, as well as a walk off Danny Salazar. Among the Cubs, only Ben Zobrist, who has five hits and one walk, has been on base more often through the first two games.
Once Schwarber was added to the roster, the question loomed as to how Chicago would handle him when the series moved to Wrigley Field, where there will be no DH. After meeting with doctors on Thursday, the Cubs announced that he has not been cleared to play defense because there is too much risk “because of the dynamic actions involved, the instantaneous reactions, the need to cut, the dynamic athletic movements that are unanticipated,” according to president of baseball operations Theo Epstein. Schwarber, who was drafted as a catcher and isn’t a natural outfielder by any stretch, initially injured himself via a collision with centerfielder Dexter Fowler, and has been regarded unfavorably via the (admittedly small-sample) defensive metrics. Via Defensive Runs Saved, he was three runs below average in 41 games in leftfield in 2015; including his four games in right, his body of work prorates to -11 DRS over the course of a season. Via Ultimate Zone Rating, he was only a fraction of a run below average, prorated to -1.5 runs over the course of a season.
The Indians have their own dilemma when it comes to the no-DH situation, since either Mike Napoli or Carlos Santana, who tied for the team lead with 34 homers, could have to sit. The team is apparently planning to start Santana in leftfield according to ESPN’s Buster Olney. Santana has just four innings there at the big league level, but played 27 games there in the minors back in 2005 and '06, before the Dodgers converted him to catcher. If he’s in left, that means Coco Crisp, who’s 3-for-23 thus far in the postseason, albeit with a pair of homers, will be on the bench.
As for Schwarber, Epstein says he’ll be used as a pinch-hitter, “Getting ready to take the most important at-bat of the game.” His usage will make for an interesting chess match between managers, one that could trigger the removal of a starter in favor of Miller or having Schwarber be held back until the ace lefty is gone, since the only other southpaw the Indians are carrying is Ryan Merritt. Speaking of Cleveland's relievers . . .
That ’pen, again
Thus far, the Indians’ bullpen has looked somewhat more vulnerable against the Cubs than it did against the Red Sox and Blue Jays earlier in the postseason. During the first two rounds, the unit combined for a 1.67 ERA in 32 1/3 innings, striking out 41 (32% of all batters faced), walking seven and allowing 25 hits. Miller and Cody Allen combined to pitch 19 1/3 of those innings, whiffing 33, walking five and allowing 10 hits.
The Cubs didn't score against either Miller or Allen in Game 1, but they got two hits and one walk off the former and one hit off the latter in their three innings of work. What's more, Chicago's hitters made Miller throw 46 pitches, of which just 26 were strikes, and Allen 17 pitches. Every batter in the lineup faced Miller once save for Schwarber, who faced him twice, striking out in his second encounter; Kris Bryant drew the other walk, and Javier Baez and Zobrist got the hits. That exposure has given the Cubs' hitters a frame of reference, which could help when they face Miller again later in the series.
With three straight games in Chicago, there's only so much the lefty can pitch while remaining available the next day, and while he said he was available for Game 2, it never made sense to use him given the Indians' early deficit. Via ESPN's Jayson Stark, over the past three seasons, just three relievers have thrown at least 46 pitches in a regular-season game and then appeared the next day. The last time anybody worked that hard and came back in a postseason game was in 2004, when the Red Sox' Keith Foulke threw 50 pitches in 2 2/3 innings in Game 4 of the ALCS against the Yankees, an elimination game that the Red Sox won in 12 innings; he returned the next day to throw 22 pitches in 1 1/3 innings, still under elimination-game conditions. Though he allowed four men to reach in those games, he didn't allow a run and stranded his three inherited runners. His manager, of course, was Terry Francona, and those appearances were key parts of Boston's salvaging of the series.
Via Stark, Foulke did something similar for the Athletics in the first two games of the 2003 Division Series (a series that Oakland lost to Boston). Francisco Rodriguez threw 46 pitches and then 16 for the Angels in Games 6 and 7 of the 2002 World Series—again, under threat of elimination. All of which is to say that it could take some extreme circumstances to get Miller to throw that much in back-to-back games, even if he's willing.
Meanwhile, the Cubs didn't have much trouble with the non-Miller/Allen relievers on Wednesday night, collecting six walks, three hits and three runs (one unearned) in 5 1/3 interminable innings against six relievers, of whom only the last two, Dan Otero and Mike Clevinger, went without allowing base runners. By that point, the score was 5–1, and while the Cubs had every reason to savor the franchise's first World Series victory in 71 years, many of those at-bats had a get-it-over-with quality. Which brings us to…
The War of Attrition
Including Bauer's start, Cubs hitters forced the Indians to throw 196 pitches, the most in any nine-inning World Series game since Game 3 of the 1997 series, when Indians hitters forced the Marlins to throw 208 pitches in a 14–11 Florida win. Cleveland's own pitchers threw 194 pitches in that four-hour, 12-minute epic, which included 11 ninth-inning runs and seven by the Marlins to break a 7–7 tie. In the pitch-count era, only one other time has a team thrown at least 196 pitches in a nine-inning World Series game: The Blue Jays threw 207 in an 8–5 win over the Phillies in the 1993 opener.
The Cubs' 196 pitches came against 45 batters, an average of 4.36 pitches per plate appearance—a rate that would have ranked fifth in the majors among qualified hitters, behind only Jayson Werth (4.6), Mike Napoli (4.57), Mike Trout (4.43) and Fowler (4.4). Against Miller and Allen in Game 1, Chicago averaged 4.5 P/PA, and even while being kept at bay against Kluber, it averaged 4.0. The MLB average during the regular season was 3.87 but has been 3.99 in the postseason, with the Cubs and Indians in a virtual tie for third at 4.03 per PA. The Indians pitchers’ 4.17 has been the second-highest allowed, ahead of only their first-round opponents, the Red Sox (4.36); the Cubs’ 3.95 has been the fifth-highest. In the World Series, the Cubs' hitters are averaging 4.28 P/PA, and the Indians are averaging 4.15, which helps to explain why the two games have totaled seven hours and 41 minutes.
Commissioner Rob Manfred and the umpires need to work harder to alleviate the pace-of-play issues that continue to dog the sport. After rules changes helped shave six minutes off the average regular-season game in 2015, to 2:56 from 3:02 the year before, the average was back up to an even three hours in 2016. This postseason is threatening to wind up with more epic nine-inning games than any other in the wild-card era. With at least three World Series games to go, there have been 13 regulation-length games of at least 3:30, matching a high reached in 2002, '07 and '09; seven of at least 3:45, matching the '13 total; and four of 4:00, surpassing the three in '07.
Some of those games have been thrillers, but of this year's four-hour set, the average margin of victory has been 3.5 runs, with three of the four decided by four runs or more. That's not a compelling product.
The Kluber plan
Prior to Game 2, Francona announced that Kluber would pitch Game 4 on three days of rest, setting him up to pitch Game 7 under such conditions as well. Making three World Series starts is something that used to be quite commonplace; excluding the four best-of-nine series (1903, '19–21) and the three best-of-sevens with ties ('07, '12, '22), it's been done 53 times, but just seven times since 1975, and just twice in this millennium.
|John Tudor||1985 Cardinals||3.00||18|
|Bruce Hurst||1986 Red Sox||1.96||23|
|Ron Darling||1986 Mets||1.53||17 2/3|
|Frank Viola||1987 Twins||3.72||19 1/3|
|Jack Morris||1991 Twins||1.17||23|
|Curt Schilling||2001 Diamondbacks||1.69||21 1/3|
|Chris Carpenter||2011 Cardinals||2.84||19|
Just about all of those pitchers fared reasonably well on the whole, posting a combined World Series ERA of 2.23, with a rise from 1.27 in the first game to 2.05 in the second (Game 4, except in the case of Carpenter, who thanks to a rainout was able to throw Game 5 and return for Game 7) to 3.25 in the third. But then, those pitchers were their teams' respective aces, and there's a selection bias at work, in that there's rarely a hurry to find more work for a starter who's been roughed up; Viola's five-run, 3 1/3-inning Game 4 debacle against the Cardinals was the only non-quality start from those pitchers in their first two turns. Tudor (2 1/3 innings, five runs against the Royals) and Darling (3 2/3 innings, three runs against the Red Sox) were the non-quality starts from the finales; the Cardinals lost the former, but the Mets pulled out the latter after Hurst—who threw six innings and allowed three runs—departed.
Kluber has been utterly dominant in this postseason, allowing just two runs in 24 1/3 innings, striking out 29 and allowing 24 base runners. That said, those two runs came in his five-inning effort on short rest in Game 4 of the ALCS. Via Ben Lindbergh, in the wild card-era, postseason starters on short rest have seen their ERAs rise from 3.92 in their first outing to 4.74 in their second, with their OPS allowed rising from .654 to .680 and their strikeout rate dropping from 16.7% to 16.2%. If the Indians are going to pull off an upset—or at the very least, ensure that this series gets back to Cleveland—Kluber will have to reverse those trends.