CLEVELAND – Here we go, Game 7, the 1908s vs. the 1948s. The Cubs or Indians will win, provided the apocalypse doesn’t strike first. Or a deluge that is forecast to strike at about 11 p.m. ET, and could be the first rainstorm in history to perpetuate not one but two droughts.
The beauty of Game 6 — an otherwise ugly affair resulting in a 9-3 Cubs victory Tuesday — is that it left the canvas blank for Game 7.
A Cy Young candidate will start for each team. The Indians’ top relievers are rested. And the Cubs are set to unwrap a fresh set of relievers, plus extract every last 100-mph fastball from Aroldis Chapman’s glorious left arm.
Oh, maybe that last part is extreme. Then again, maybe it’s not. Game 7 could reveal if Cubs manager Joe Maddon pushed Chapman too far by summoning him with two on and two outs in the seventh inning of a game that the Cubs led, 7-2. But only if the night unfolds in a certain way.
Who knows? The Indians might lead start to finish Wednesday. Or the Cubs might build a big enough cushion to allow left-hander Jon Lester to serve as their middle man and closer, enabling them to avoid Chapman entirely.
Here’s what to look for in Game 7:
*The starting-pitching matchup.
For the Indians, right-hander Corey Kluber will become the first pitcher to start twice on three days’ rest in the Series since Curt Schilling did it for the Diamondbacks in 2001.
Kluber’s combined line from Games 1 and 4:
IP 12, H 9, R 1, K 15, BB 1.
“How can you not want to face Kluber one more time?” the Cubs’ Chris Coghlan asked. “As a competitor, you want him all the way. You don’t want anyone else.”
Kluber is at 245 1/3 innings, including postseason. However, he threw only 30 1/3 innings in October. His average monthly total during the regular season was nearly 36.
Kyle Hendricks, meanwhile, will be starting on the road for the first time this postseason. His major-league leading 2.13 ERA — if it’s any solace to the Indians — broke down to 1.32 at home, 2.95 on the road. And his 1.31 ERA in four postseason starts at Wrigley was nearly identical to his regular-season mark.
The one difference? In October, Hendricks barely averaged over fine innings per start.
*The Cubs’ revamped bullpen.
Jon Lester and John Lackey, come on down! Especially Lester.
Maddon’s call for Chapman in Game 6 was a complete vote of no-confidence in the rest of his bullpen. Lefty Mike Montgomery is gassed. Righty Carl Edwards allowed the only run in Game 3 and a leadoff single in Game 5. Righty Pedro Strop was shaky in the ninth inning of Game 6, and righty Hector Rondon is pitching only in low-leverage situations.
Lester, who would be working on two days’ rest after throwing 90 pitches in Game 5, likely will be the Cubs’ first reliever, sources said. His personal catcher, David Ross, will enter with him, replacing Willson Contreras, and likely play the rest of the way in the final game of his career.
Ross, 39, joked that he will be so excited for Game 7, he might need to drink decaffeinated coffee. Told that standing room tickets are $2,000, he said, “Can I sell mine? I’m looking for a job after tomorrow.”
Before Game 6, I asked Indians manager Terry Francona if he considered starting Davis over rookie Tyler Naquin in center, even the Indians gained the platoon advantage by avoiding the right-right matchup of Davis and Jake Arrieta.
“A little bit,” Francona said. “But I’ve been telling guys we need to be who we are. You start doing something different, it might set off doubts.”
Fair enough, especially considering that Davis was 3-for-27 in the postseason. Still, two of Davis’ hits came in his final two at-bats of Game 5. And Naquin’s failure to catch a routine two-out fly by Addison Russell was the turning point of Game 6. Instead of ending the first inning trailing 1-0, the Indians fell behind, 3-0.
Naquin not only is 4-for-23 with 14 strikeouts in the postseason, but he also rated a minus-36 in center during the regular season according to John Dewan’s plus-minus ratings, meaning he made 36 fewer plays than the average center fielder.
Davis was minus-10, but brings far more experience. It will be a shock if he isn’t in center for Game 7.
If the Indians were going to lose Game 6, they were better off losing big.
Their top three relievers should be fresh – Andrew Miller would be working on three days rest, Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw on two. Francona, when asked about that group in his post-game news conference, turned the question around almost immediately, talking about how the Indians compelled the Cubs to use Chapman after trailing, 7-0.
“You always want to win the game, but the next best thing . . . was try to make them use pitching even in a loss,” Francona said. “So we hung around enough, at least Chapman had to pitch. You never know, maybe that helps us.”
Several Cubs players recalled Reds first baseman Joey Votto saying a few years back that Chapman pitched better with more work. The numbers suggest as much, and Chapman certainly doesn’t sound as if throwing 62 pitches over three days, including 20 in Game 6, will preclude him from maxing out in Game 7.
“It’s the last game,” Chapman said. “I’m going to try and prepare myself physically and mentally before the game, taking the therapy that I need to get myself ready. Then we’ll see where the chips fall. I’ll be ready to go, whatever (Maddon) needs me to do.”
The lingering question is whether Maddon asked him to do too much on Tuesday night.
The manager believed he had no other choice against the middle of the Indians’ order. Chapman ended the seventh by retiring Francisco Lindor on a groundout; the original safe call was overturned, and Chapman, who appeared to twist his ankle stepping on first, said afterward that he was fine.
Maddon laments putting Chapman in difficult spots in the previous two series; a 7-2 lead certainly provided greater margin for error. The only reason Chapman started the ninth — and threw five extra pitches with a 9-2 lead — was that Strop needed more time to warm up.
Game 7 merely will determine whether Maddon gets second-guessed for a lifetime, becomes the first manager to win a World Series for the Cubs in 108 years or something in between.
Nothing much is at stake, really. Only histories and legacies, curses and droughts.