It all comes down to Wednesday night for the two most tortured franchises in MLB. The Chicago Cubs visit the Cleveland Indians in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series as one team is set to end a lifetime of misery, while the other will add yet another chapter to its history of heartbreak.
Chicago has won two straight games since falling into a 3-1 series hole. The Cubs won Game 5 at Wrigley Field, and they scored seven runs in the first three innings on Tuesday night at Progressive Field to force a deciding seventh game. With the Cubs facing elimination for their third straight game, the Indians will do so for the first time this postseason.
There’s no tomorrow for either team, meaning it’s all hands on deck, and the ability for each manager to use just about every pitcher on his roster makes the contest a virtual toss-up. Chicago is a slight road favorite at various Las Vegas and online sportsbooks with anywhere between -110 and -120 betting odds. Cleveland has between +100 and +105 odds.
The pitching matchup doesn’t get any better. Cleveland will send ace Corey Kluber to the mound, while Kyle Hendricks will get the call after leading all starters with the league’s best ERA in the regular season.
Kluber has been lights out this postseason, outperforming every starter since October began. The right-hander has tossed 19.1 scoreless innings in three starts at home, and he’s allowed three runs in 11 innings on the road. Both of Kluber’s road starts have been on three days’ rest, and Wednesday will be his third start in seven days. Kluber seemed to be unaffected by the short rest in Game 4 when he allowed six baserunners and one run in a six-inning victory, and he only threw 81 pitches.
Hendricks is pitching on normal rest, having posted a 1.31 ERA in four playoff starts. It’ll be his first road playoff start, and the 26-year-old was much better at home in the regular season, where he posted a 1.32 ERA. He allowed no runs in 4.1 innings in Game 3, and he’ll be on an extremely short leash when he takes the ball in Cleveland.
Both Kluber and Hendricks will likely be back in the dugout at the first sign of trouble. Chicago ace Jon Lester might be the first pitcher out of the bullpen for the Cubs, and closer Aroldis Chapman could potentially be available for two innings after throwing 20 pitches on Tuesday night. With reliever Andrew Miller and closer Cody Allen both having multiple days of rest, each pitcher will be able to go at least two innings for Cleveland if need be.
The last Game 7 in the World Series came two years ago when the San Francisco Giants clinched the title on the road against the Kansas City Royals. The Giants won 3-2, and the contest is best known for the performance of San Francisco ace Madison Bumgarner, who pitched five scoreless innings for the save just three days after tossing a complete-game shutout.
Hendricks and Lester were arguably MLB’s best two starting pitchers in the regular season, and they could single-handedly lead the Cubs to their first championship in 108 years. But if the 2016 World Series is going to end with a memorable pitching performance, it’s more likely to come from the Indians.
Kluber has already shut down Chicago twice, and Miller and Allen have been virtually unhittable this postseason, allowing just a single run in 28.2 combined innings. As good as the Cubs’ offense is, it has been inconsistent in the playoffs.
Facing elite pitching on the road, Chicago’s bats could go silent again. Only four teams have ever come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the World Series, and the team that hasn’t won a championship since 1908 might be forced to “wait ‘til next year” one more time.
Prediction: Cleveland over Chicago, 2-1