The Chicago Cubs aren’t dead yet. The NL champs have forced a Game 6 against the Cleveland Indians in the 2016 World Series, and they are hoping to become one of the few teams to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the Fall Classic.
It hasn’t been done since 1985 when the Kansas City Royals won three straight games to defeat the St. Louis Cardinals. Three other teams have accomplished the feat, and the Cubs can force a deciding Game 7 with a victory in Cleveland on Tuesday.
The Indians are at home, but they find themselves as underdogs in their return to Progressive Field. Cleveland has +132 betting odds at Las Vegas sportsbooks, while Chicago is a -142 favorite. Even though the Cubs have been outplayed in the series, their edge in the starting pitching matchup means there’s a good chance the World Series will feature a Game 7 for the second time in three years.
Chicago sends Jake Arrieta, last year’s Cy Young award winner, to the mound. The right-hander hasn’t been nearly as dominant as he was in 2015, but he still ranks among the best starters in MLB. He picked up the victory in Game 2, allowing one run and two hits over 5.2 innings in Cleveland.
Arrieta goes up against Josh Tomlin, who like Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer before him, will be pitching on three days’ rest. Tomlin’s regular-season ERA of 4.40 was much worse than Arrieta’s (3.10), but the Indians' starter has been the superior pitcher since September. Tomlin has given up two runs or fewer in each of his last seven starts, and Arrieta has a 5.82 ERA in his last four starts.
Even if Tomlin is terrific, much of the game is likely to be left in the hands of Cleveland’s bullpen. He hasn’t gone more than 5.2 innings in any of his three postseason starts, and manager Terry Francona pulled him with two outs in the fifth inning of Game 3, even though Tomlin had surrendered no runs and just three baserunners.
Despite the injuries they’ve suffered in their starting rotation, Cleveland’s pitching has carried them to within one game of winning their first title since 1948. The team has a 1.80 postseason ERA, led by an unhittable backend of the bullpen.
Andrew Miller has probably been the best player of the entire MLB playoffs. He’s allowed one run in 17 innings, striking out 29 batters. Most importantly, the left-hander has given Cleveland length, pitching at least two innings in six of his nine appearances. If Cleveland has the lead, he’ll almost certainly try to get at least six outs before handing the ball off to closer Cody Allen, who’s pitched 11.2 scoreless innings in nine appearances.
Miller, Allen and reliever Bryan Shaw have been great against a Cubs lineup that has underachieved for most of the playoffs. After finishing second in the regular season among NL teams in runs scored, the Cubs have been shut out four times this postseason, including twice against Cleveland. Even in Sunday’s Game 5 victory, Chicago only scored three runs.
The Cubs’ lineup will get a boost by returning to an AL ballpark, where Kyle Schwarber will be available as the team’s starting DH. The 23-year-old still hasn’t been medically cleared to play the outfield, but he reached base safely five times in nine plate appearances in the first two games of the series.
Arrieta has been very hittable over the last two months, and he might have to be near perfect to give Chicago a chance to extend the series.
Prediction: Cleveland over Chicago, 3-1