8:05 PM EST, FOX – Money Line: Cubs -141, Run Line: 7
Five grueling games into the 2016 World Series, and one team stands on the precipice of breaking one of the longest championship droughts in sports, while another faces the dreaded prospect of prolonging it for yet another year as the Cleveland Indians host the Chicago Cubs in Game Six from Jacobs Field. For the second consecutive contest, the Cubs (103-58, 1st in NL Central) face elimination, after staving it off following Sunday Night’s 3-2 victory in Game Five. Sometimes playing in front of the home crowd is a curse instead of a blessing, as the collective pressure of a city waiting since 1908 for a World Series Title appeared to weigh very heavily on Joe Maddon and his charges. Many felt that Chicago was in the driver’s seat following their 1-1 series split heading into three straight games at historic Wrigley Field (particularly with the Series being played under National League Rules), but instead carried the look of a confused tourist lost in the labyrinth of a foreign city. Simply put, Games Three and Four were a nightmare for this group; just as they did through the middle stages of the NLCS, the Cubs powerful bats went dormant, as the hosts managed to muster just a pair of runs on thirteen hits, as they were outscored by a combined score of 8-2. The top of their Batting Order, consisting of the likes of Dexter Fowler (.276 BA, 13 HR, 48 RBI), Kris Bryant (.292 BA, 39 HR, 102 RBI), Anthony Rizzo (.292 BA, 32 HR, 109 RBI), Ben Zobrist (.272 BA, 18 HR, 76 RBI), and Wilson Contreras (.282 BA, 12 HR, 35 RBI) were a cumulative 7-of-33 from the plate (.212 BA), racking up eleven strikeouts in those two games. However, there were a number of signs Sunday Night indicating that these guys may finally be thawing some of the ice off of those bats. The Cubbies scored all three of their runs in the Fourth Inning, where all but a pair of their seven hits took place, including a Solo Home Run from Bryant to lead things off, followed by a Rizzo Double and back-to-back Singles from Zobrist and Addison Russell (.238 BA, 21 HR, 95 RBI), with the former three all crossing Home at some point. On the mound, Jon Lester (19-5, 2.44 ERA) rebounded from a disappointing Game One, lasting a solid six innings in which the Lefthander yielded a pair of earned runs on four hits, striking out five and walking none. Desperate to put and end to things, Maddon promptly replaced Reliever Carl Edwards after just two batters in the Seventh Inning, replacing him with Closer Aroldis Chapman (16 Saves, 1.01 ERA), who did his best Andrew Miller impersonation, tossing 2.2 scoreless innings, accumulating eight outs. It was the longest career appearance by the Cuban International, who struck out four while permitting juts one hit on forty-two pitches, breathing life into a team that until that night looked like they were on Life Support. Now the question remains, can Chicago do it again? Maddon and his Staff have to like their chances of extending this series tonight to a decisive Game Seven with Jake Arrieta (18-8, 3.10 ERA) on the mound, as the former Cy Young finally exorcised his Postseason Demons in his lone start of this encounter. The veteran Righthander was the driving force in Game Two’s 5-1 victory, dealing five scoreless innings before finally acquiescing midway through the Sixth Frame, while relinquishing two hits and issuing three walks and racking up six strikeouts on the night. However, the Lineup is going to have to prove that they can in fact hit somebody in the Indians’ Rotation NOT NAMED Trevor Bauer, whom each of Chicago’s two victories in this series have come against. Despite batting a poor .210 overall in this Series, the Cubs have lit up Bauer on .333 hitting, scoring five runs, including a homer, while driving the young Starter from the mound before the Fifth Stanza in each outing.
Meanwhile, one more win is all it’s going to take to wash away sixty-eight long years of futility for the Indians (94-67, 1st in AL Central) as they essentially have two opportunities to win once. In fact, after Saturday Night’s 7-2 Game Four victory put them in a commanding 3-1 Series lead, they had THREE opportunities to earn a single triumph. Predictably, the Tribe loosened the reins a bit in Game Five (particularly with Bauer on the mound) in an attempt to give their own fans the joy of clinching a championship on their own field. Indeed, it appears that Francona, who is now 11-2 lifetime in the World Series as a Manager, knows precisely what he’s doing as he refrained from deploying dominant Set-Up Man Andrew Miller (4-0, 1.55 ERA) in Sunday Night’s 3-2 loss (even though the game was well within reach), in an effort to grant the Lefthander enough rest for Game Six, and perhaps Game Seven. In other words, it’s a given that the Cubs are going to see Miller tonight, and in all likelihood for many innings. The towering Reliever has been featured over the course of 5.1 innings in three appearances (earning a victory in Game Three) during this Series, yielding one lone run on three hits, with eight strikeouts and a pair of walks. He has been a bonaifde game changer in this Postseason for the Tribe, who shrewdly acquired him from the New York Yankees at the Trade Deadline, throwing seventeen innings relinquishing one run on eight hits, with a whopping twenty-nine strikeouts compared to just four walks. It’s not rocket science, folks, for Francona’s strategy is rather simple: get a lead as quick as possible, then hand the ball over to Miller and the Bullpen. Getting a lead tonight will likely prove to be more difficult than expected, particularly against Arrieta, but over the course of the World Series Cleveland’s Lineup hasn’t necessarily struggled as expected against Chicago’s deep stable of arms. In five games (three in a National League Park), the Tribe have batted a respectable .236 with a .315 On Base Percentage, which have been considerably better than that of their opponent, with the heart of the Order, consisting of Jason Kipnis (.275 BA, 23 HR, 82 RBI), Francisco Lindor (.301 BA, 15 HR, 78 RBI), Jose Ramirez (.312 BA, 11 HR, 76 RBI), and Mike Napoli (.239 BA, 34 HR, 101 RBI) outperforming their more-heralded counterparts batting a cumulative .274, scoring nine runs, with eight extra-base hits, and four home runs. Lindor, in particular, has terrorized the Cubs’ Pitching Staff, batting a white-hot .421 with eight hits, including a double, and a pair of RBIs, along with a stolen base. Heading to the mound tonight will be Josh Tomlin (13-9, 4.40 ERA), who while far from spectacular, simply took care of business in tossing 4.2 scoreless innings in a 1-0 Game Three victory. The veteran Righthander relegated the hosts to just a pair of hits, retiring all but three of the seventeen batters he faced before handing the ball off to Miller, logging a strikeout and a walk. Like the rest of Francona’s Rotation, Tomlin has taken his game to another level in the Playoffs, going 2-0 in three starts with a stellar 1.76 ERA, permitting three runs on nine hits over 15.1 innings of labor, with eleven strikeouts opposed to four walks. Furthermore, his WHIP has dropped precipitously from 1.190 in the Regular Season to 0.848 in the Postseason, as the 32-year old went from allowing an average of 9.7 hits per nine innings to 5.3 hits per nine frames. Granted, this guy is far from an Innings Eater (he hasn’t lasted longer than 5.2 in these Playoffs), but again, that’s a function of the game plan, as Francona has been quick to transition to the Bullpen. The last time the Indians participated in Game Six of a World Series, they trailed 2-3 against the then-Florida Marlins in the 1997 October Classic, in which they gutted out a 4-1 victory on the road. However, they would ultimately fall short in extra innings as the Marlins earned their first championship in franchise history. Not to sound pessimistic, it’s probably in Cleveland’s best interest NOT to let this thing go seven games…
Predicted Outcome: Indians 3, Cubs 2