Just two more wins.
Say it again. The more you say it, the more you can believe it. The Cleveland Indians are just two more wins away from winning the World Series.
Cleveland has become the center of the sports universe in 2016, first raining destruction on a 52-year championship drought when the Cleveland Cavaliers rallied from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals in June. Now, the Indians are looking to end a four-month title hangover and their own 68-year drought by supplying the city of Cleveland and its fans with another championship parade.
In Friday’s 1-0 Game 3 victory that gave Cleveland a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series over Chicago, the Indians used some clutch hitting and some dynamite pitching from all four men to step on the mound against the Cubs to quiet a Wrigley Field crowd hosting its first game in 71 years. But the offense had its struggles, leaving base runners all over the place through the first five innings. The team needs to play more consistent and complete games if it wants to leave the Windy City up in the series or even with the Commissioner’s trophy.
GAME TIMES and PITCHING PROBABLES
Tuesday, 10/25/16 – Chicago 0, Cleveland 6
Wednesday, 10/26/16 – Chicago 5, Cleveland 1
Friday, 10/28/16 – Chicago 0, Cleveland 1
Saturday, 10/29/16 (8:00 at CHI) – RHP Corey Kluber (18-9, 3.14 ERA) vs. RHP John Lackey (11-8, 3.35)
Sunday, 10/30/16* (8:00 at CHI) – RHP Trevor Bauer (12-8, 4.26) vs. LHP Jon Lester (19-5, 2.44)
Tuesday, 11/1/16* (8:00 at CLE) – TBD vs. TBD
Wednesday, 11/2/16* (8:00 at CLE) – TBD vs. TBD
TV (all games) – FOX
Radio (all games) – Indians Radio Network; 670 The Score (Chicago); ESPN Radio
LACKEY GETS A LOOK
Lackey, 38, wrapped up his 14th season in the Majors with an 11-8 record, a 3.35 ERA, and a 1.06 WHIP in 29 starts in his first season for the Cubs. The right-hander is a playoff veteran who was exposed to the postseason in his first season at the Major League level and helped the Anaheim Angels bring home a World Series title. He made trips to the postseason again in 2005, 2007, 2008, and 2009 with the Angels before helping the Boston Red Sox defeat the St. Louis Cardinals in 2013 for baseball’s championship. After two seasons with those Cardinals and two more trips to the playoffs, he brought his experience to the Cubs rotation.
Lackey was far and away better at Wrigley than on the road in 2016. He went 7-4 in Chicago with a 2.62 ERA and 0.99 WHIP over 16 starts, striking out 99 batters in 110 innings. On the road, he made just 13 starts and posted a 4-4 record with a 4.37 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. He missed some time in August, but finished the second half of the season strong with a 4-3 record, 2.76 ERA, and 0.98 WHIP after going 7-5 with a 3.70 ERA and 1.11 WHIP prior to the All-Star break.
In the playoffs, he has been unable to make it through five innings and earn a win. He worked four innings against the San Francisco Giants in the first round of the playoffs, giving up three runs on seven hits with two walks and four strikeouts in a no-decision. He worked four more innings in the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, giving up two runs on three hits with three walks and three strikeouts while also hitting one batter, again in a no-decision.
LACKEY’S LINE AGAINST CLEVELAND
Lackey will be a familiar face for Indians manager Terry Francona, who was at the helm of the Red Sox in 2010 and 2011 while Lackey was struggling in his rotation. He is 8-9 lifetime in 20 career starts against the Indians with one complete game. He has a 3.92 ERA and 1.40 WHIP, allowing a .258 batting average against them dating back to his debut season in 2002.
Lackey last faced the Indians in 2015, taking a loss while working five and one-third innings. He gave up two runs on five hits, walked five, and struck out two in the game. He had faced the Tribe during the regular season at least once in every season until this year, when the Cubs and Indians did not meet during the first 162 games of the schedule.
Ten members of the Indians playoff roster have faced Lackey during their careers – only Francisco Lindor, Michael Martinez, and Tyler Naquin have not. Naquin may not get much of a chance given the strong career numbers of Rajai Davis against Lackey; the Indians veteran outfielder is 12-for-35 off of the righty with three doubles, a triple, and four RBI, but has struck out ten times.
Carlos Santana and Mike Napoli have each homered off of Lackey. Santana has a single and five walks to his credit for a .200 batting average and .467 on-base percentage, while Napoli has a single, four walks, and one hit by pitch to post a .222 average and .500 OBP.
Coco Crisp is just 5-for-38 against Lackey in 42 career plate appearances, but two of those hits were solo home runs. He has also drawn four walks, struck out five times, and grounded into two double plays against him. Jason Kipnis is just 2-for-12 with a double and three walks. Lonnie Chisenhall is 1-for-12 with a single, but has driven in two runs.
KLUBER GOES ON SHORT REST
The 30-year-old Kluber will work on short rest against the Cubs, doing so for just the second time in his Major League career. His only other appearance in such a role resulted in the only two runs that he has allowed in four career playoff starts.
Kluber has been fantastic for the Tribe throughout the playoffs, showing why he holds the title of ace of the Indians rotation. He pitched into the eighth inning and did not allow a run on three hits and three walks while striking out seven in a Game 2 victory over Boston in the ALDS. He worked Game 1 and Game 4 of the ALCS against Toronto, throwing six and one-third innings of scoreless baseball (six hits and two walks with six strikeouts) in an opener win before giving up two runs on four hits in five innings with seven strikeouts in a loss in the fourth game. He opened the World Series with a record-setting performance, striking out eight batters in the first three innings and nine in total over six innings of scoreless, four-hit baseball.
Kluber was an All-Star for the first time in his career in 2016, making the team as an injury replacement but certainly just as deserving as the other starters. He is also one of the top American League candidates for the Cy Young award.
CHICAGO VS. KLUBER
The Cubs did not have much experience coming into the World Series against Kluber and given the lack of success that they had against him in Game 1, it is tough to know for sure how much they may have picked up on the Cleveland right-hander.
Ben Zobrist is 3-for-16 (.188) now against him with a double and is the most exposed Cubs player to Kluber. David Ross has two hits in five career at bats against him, but has struck out twice. Bench player Chris Coghlan is 1-for-5 with a double and All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo is 1-for-6 with a triple and one run batted in.
Dexter Fowler struck out twice against Kluber in Game 1 and is now 0-for-10 in eleven career plate appearances against him with seven strikeouts and one hit by pitch.
The Indians announced during the day on Friday that Bauer would indeed be their Game 5 starter and, like Kluber, will do so on short rest.
Bauer struggled with his command some in his first career World Series appearance in Game 2 and lasted just three and two-thirds innings before he was lifted. The 25-year-old allowed two runs on six hits with two walks and two strikeouts on the night. He had previously allowed three runs on six hits with two walks and seven strikeouts in five and one-third innings of work during the ALDS and ALCS.
The Cubs have not formally announced a starter for Game 5 at the time of this post, but all indications would lead one to believe that Lester would get another crack at the Indians lineup. The 32-year-old southpaw was an All-Star for the first time in the National League and the fourth time in his career this season and went 19-5 with a 2.44 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 32 starts. Aiming for his third World Series ring in his eleven-year career, he had allowed just two runs in 21 innings of work in the NLDS and NLCS before the Indians got to him for three runs on six hits and three walks in five and two-thirds innings in his worst start and first loss in four career World Series outings.
Sunday’s first pitch from Wrigley Field is scheduled for 8:08 PM ET.
Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images