Yesterday was a day full of optimism and potential in downtown Cleveland. It ended in depressing fashion, leaving the entire city on edge as it prepares for tonight.
Sure, the Cleveland Indians entering a two-game stretch needing only one win over the Chicago Cubs to clinch a World Series title seemed like a great spot to be in. However, when you lose the way the Tribe did in Game 6 – an outright throttling by the tune of 9-3 – optimism can be a little tougher to come by. After a night full of devastating home runs and a litany of gaffes from center fielder Tyler Naquin, the series now comes to a Game 7 with momentum almost completely sitting on Chicago’s side.
Despite the Indians fumbling their first two opportunities to close the series out, they do have one thing going for them in a winner-take-all contest tonight. Corey Kluber, in the middle of a dominant postseason, is taking the mound again with the championship on the line. It goes without saying that Cleveland’s fate tonight is almost completely dependent on how its ace pitches.
Based on how this series has swung, the outcome of Game 7 seems pretty simple. If Kluber is solid, once again having Cubs batters flailing at the plate, the Tribe’s chances to win increase dramatically. If starting him on short rest backfires, well, Chicago might end a pretty lengthy drought tonight.
With that in mind, it’s a little difficult to predict just how Kluber’s night goes.
So far through the playoffs, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more reliable starter. Kluber has four wins this postseason, three of them shutouts. Even in his lone shaky appearance, a short-rest game against the Toronto Blue Jays, he only allowed two runs.
At the same time, this will be Kluber’s third start since last Tuesday. Pitching on short rest is already not an ideal situation for any pitcher. Doing so twice certainly isn’t much better.
You also have to factor in how this will look from the opponent’s perspective.
The Cubs will now be seeing Kluber for the third time in eight days. At this point, you have to think they know what to look for. Couple that with the fact all of the momentum is now on Chicago’s side, and you can see how Kluber starting isn’t a guaranteed win for Cleveland by any means.
To his credit, the Indians’ ace is one of the best when it comes to adjusting his approach, both before games and during. If Chicago does feel as though it has Kluber pegged, he certainly possesses the ability to react accordingly.
Of course, Game 7 isn’t all on Cleveland’s starter. If the Indians want to take advantage of having both Kluber on the bump and a fully rested back-end bullpen ready to go, they need to play from ahead. All we’ve heard is how ideal it is for Indians manager Terry Francona that he hasn’t had to use his big guns like Andrew Miller or Cody Allen yet, but this won’t matter if the Tribe once again finds itself in a hole early.
That said, this is partly on Kluber’s shoulders as well. In order to give Cleveland the chance to grab a lead, he’s going to need to keep the now-scorching Cubs bats quiet.
As you can see, it’s tough to find anyone on either side of the field who has more say on the outcome of Game 7 than Kluber. Another impressive start could give the Indians an incredible opportunity to shut the Cubs down for good. If the second short-rest appearance is too much for Kluber’s arm, Cleveland fans will have to watch another team celebrate on their home field.