If the Chicago Cubs hope to end 108 years of misery, they desperately need a win on Saturday night. The NL Champs host the Cleveland Indians in Game 4 of the 2016 World Series after falling into a 2-1 series hole.
Chicago was shut out at Wrigley Field on Friday night, losing 1-0 to starter Josh Tomlin and three Cleveland relievers. The Cubs had a chance to win in the ninth inning, but Javy Baez struck out to end the contest, stranding runners on second and third base.
It’s been all or nothing for Chicago since they reached the NLCS. In five of their last nine games, the Cubs have scored five runs or more. In the other four contests, the NL’s No. 2 offense in the regular season hasn’t scored a single run, including Game 1 and Game 3 of the Fall Classic.
On Saturday, Chicago takes on one of the pitchers that have shut them out in October. Corey Kluber was terrific in the series opener, tossing six scoreless innings before being pulled after 88 pitches. Manager Terry Francona was quick to take out his ace so that he would be ready to pitch on three days’ rest, and that’s exactly what he’ll do on Saturday.
The Game 1 start was no aberration for Kluber, who has surrendered no runs in three of his four playoff starts. He’ll go head-to-head with John Lackey, who has a 5.63 ERA in two 2016 postseason starts.
There’s plenty going against the Cubs heading into Game 4. Cleveland has the clear edge in starting pitching and the bullpen — Andrew Miller and Cody Allen combined to pitch 2.2 more scoreless innings in Game 3 — and the Indians are facing a Cubs lineup that’s been woefully inconsistent. Three-quarters of road teams that have won Game 3 when the World Series was tied 1-1 have gone on to win the title.
But Chicago has been MLB’s best team all season, and it’d be a mistake to count them out just yet. Oddsmakers agree, considering they’ve made the Cubs slight favorites in Game 4. The Cubs have -130 betting odds, and the Indians are +120 underdogs, via OddsShark.
With two MVP candidates and dangerous hitters throughout the lineup, Chicago might be primed for one of their breakout offensive performances. Kluber allowed two runs in five innings in his only start on short rest, and it was just a week ago when the Cubs got to an ace that seemed nearly unhittable. Six days after Clayton Kershaw shut Chicago out through seven innings, the Cubs tagged him for five runs in five innings.
Lackey hasn’t been good this postseason, but he pitched to a more than respectable 3.35 ERA in the regular season. He has eight wins in his playoff career, and he might not have much trouble with an Indians lineup that is averaging just 3.4 runs per game in October.
The Cubs no longer have a chance to clinch the championship at Wrigley Field, but Chicago is too good for the series not to find its way back to Cleveland.
Prediction: Chicago over Cleveland, 5-2