The Cubs beat the Indians 5–1 Wednesday night in Game 2 of the World Series at Cleveland's Progressive Field. Jake Arrieta didn't allow a hit until the sixth inning and gave up just one run for Chicago, while Kyle Schwarber delivered a pair of RBI singles to help even the Fall Classic at one game apiece heading into Game 3 at Wrigley Field on Friday.
Jake Arrieta’s 2015 was so good and so historic, that anything in 2016 would naturally have to be a bit of a letdown. To review: Arrieta had a 1.77 ERA and a .185 batting average against a season ago. He posted just a 0.75 ERA after the All-Star break, pitched a no-hitter at Dodger Stadium and allowed just nine earned runs after mid-July en route to the NL Cy Young Award. It ranks among the best seasons in MLB history.
This season, Arrieta was good, but nowhere near his '15 peak. He threw another no-hitter, posted a 3.10 ERA with a 1.084 WHIP and about one strikeout per inning in the regular season, and in two postseason starts entering the World Series he had allowed six runs in 11 innings. He struggled against the Dodgers in the NLCS, giving up four runs in five innings. This follows a pattern from last season where, after his complete game shutout against the Pirates in the wild-card game, he went on to give up eight runs in 10 2/3 innings against the Cardinals and Mets.
Yet on Wednesday Arrieta again flashed his ace form. The 30-year-old pitched 5 2/3 innings, gave up one run and struck out six batters. Cleveland didn't get its first hit until Kipnis's hustle double with one out in the sixth. The last time a Cubs pitcher to make it that far with a no-hitter in a postseason game was Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown in Game 4 of the 1906 World Series. Arrieta kept Indians' hitters off-balance all night. It was 2015 again.
That’s good news for Chicago because a revitalized Arrieta gives the Cubs more depth in the rotation. The Indians' only reliable starter is Game 1 winner Corey Kluber, who is scheduled to start Game 4 and, if necessary Game 7. But if Arrieta, who would pitch again in Game 6, Game 3 starter and major league ERA leader Kyle Hendricks and NLCS co-MVP Jon Lester (who is slated for Game 5) can win each of their upcoming starts, Kluber won't even get a chance to pitch a Game 7.
Trevor Bauer was fine in his first start since his infamous bloody pinky knocked him out of ALCS Game 3 in the first inning, but he struggled with his control and had to be yanked with two outs in the fourth inning on Wednesday after giving up six hits and two runs.
Bauer’s latest short start caused manager Terry Francona to use a parade of six pitchers to get the final 16 outs. Andrew Miller, who threw 46 pitches in Game 1, and looked a bit less than automatic while allowing four of the 10 batters he faced to reach base, got a much-needed night off.
In Game 3 the Indians will turn to Josh Tomlin, who hasn’t gotten past the sixth inning in either of his first two postseason starts. Consider this: Kluber has thrown 24 1/3 innings in the playoffs. The other three starters—Bauer, Tomlin and Ryan Merritt—have combined for 24. The wild card for Cleveland is Danny Salazar, who made his first major league relief appearance in Game 2 and pitched around a pair of walks to post a scoreless inning. It was the first time he’s pitched since Sept. 9, because of a forearm strain. Salazar was an All-Star this year, with a 3.87 ERA and 161 strikeouts. If he can give the Indians a few innings to take some of the heat off the rest of the bullpen that would be huge for Francona.
If not, it could mean trouble.
Ben Zobrist entered the World Series in a funk. The 35-year-old switch-hitter, who posted a representative .272/.386/.446 line this season—better than his carer averages in all three categories—had gone just 6 for 40 in the NLDS and NLCS, a paltry .150 average. That was especially surprising considering he'd hit .303 in the postseason last year while helping the Royals to the world championship.
But Zobrist has returned to form in the Fall Classic. He went 3-for-4 in Game 1, and followed that up by going 2-for-4 in Game 2, including a fifth-inning triple that brought home Anthony Rizzo with Chicago's third run.
Zobrist got some help Wednesday from the miraculous Kyle Schwarber. After missing six months with a knee injury, Schwarber was activated for the World Series, and he followed up his 1-for-3 outing in Game 1 by going 2-for-4 with a pair of RBI singles in Game 2. With Zobrist and Schwarber adding depth and protection to Chicago's lineup behind Kris Bryant and Rizzo, the Cubs will be much tougher to beat.
Chicago is still playing without a real rightfielder—Jason Heyward has been so bad that manager Joe Maddon benched him for the second straight night on Wednesday. In Game 1 Chris Coghlan got the call, and in Game 2 it was Jorge Soler, who entered the night 0-for-8 in the postseason. Soler went 0-for-2 before drawing a walk and being removed for Heyward as a pinch-runner. Heyward then went 0-for-2 himself. Coghlan, Heyward, Soler and fellow outfielder Albert Almora are now 2-for-55 combined in the postseason with 17 strikeouts and only one RBI, while Schwarber is 3-for-7 with two RBIs by himself. Schwarber, however, has not been cleared to play the field, so it remains to be seen if he will be in the starting lineup at Wrigley Field, where the designated hitter is unavailable.
That will only add to the importance of having Zobrist stay hot.