Following their Game Five win at Wrigley Field, Cubs catcher Willson Contreras was asked about his club’s mood as they prepared to head to Cleveland, down three games to two.
“We are fired up,” responded Contreras. “We are going to go out there Tuesday and play our best baseball.”
They did exactly that. There was no Indian summer in Cleveland last night — it was 71 degrees at first pitch — as the Cubs won 9-3, setting up a decisive Game Seven.
“It’s fun,” Anthony Rizzo said afterward. “Any Game Seven. I was at a Game Seven when the Blackhawks won. It was a Game Seven. It’s must watch if you’re a fan. Not just baseball. Game Seven of any sport is must watch.”
Tonight’s Game Seven will be the 38th in World Series history. Of the previous 37, the home team has been victorious 18 times and the road team has been victorious 19 times.
David Ross will put on a big-league uniform — at least as a player — for the last time tonight. The 39-year-old catcher didn’t sound too focused on his imminent retirement leading into Game Seven.
“All I’m going to be worried about is winning the World Series,” said Ross. “Screw my career. Let’s win the World Series.”
The Indians have received a lot of kudos for their game-planning throughout the postseason. The Cubs deserve kudos of their own. Advance scouting has played a big role for the data-driven squad.
Terry Kennedy, Kyle Phillips, and Jake Ciarrachi were the primary follows. Their advance work was augmented by other scouts, as well as by the video-advance team of Nate Halm and Tommy Hottovy. The collaborative effort was more extensive than in the regular season, but at the same time, there were no attempts to reinvent the wheel. Once they knew they’d be playing the Indians, the group mapped out a plan.
“It was something we did basically every step of the way,” explained Hottovy. “We’d all sit down — the advance scouts, ourselves, the coaching staff, front-office personnel — and we would run through everything. That’s what we did. We didn’t want to take away from the process we had all season.”
Hottovy doesn’t feel there have been any surprises. In his opinion, both teams are highly prepared, and in the end it comes down to execution. Six games in, the planning and execution have the teams going into a Game Seven.
Kris Bryant was asked if he’s seen a different pitching approach in the offseason. His answer was a soft yes, accompanied by tacit recognition of a team weakness.
“I feel that as a team, guys are throwing us more curveballs,” said Bryant. “I don’t know. I don’t look into the stats. I don’t know if we hit curveballs well, but if they keep throwing them, obviously we don’t. But, yeah, certain teams are always going to pitch you differently. But nothing too crazy from team to team this postseason.”
Bryan Shaw doesn’t dig deep into the numbers either. The Cleveland reliever “couldn’t tell you what our FIPs are, and this or that.” He does appreciate some of the data that’s delivered to the pitching staff, including “the percentages certain hitters swing at a pitch, and how hard they hit these pitches.”
Kris Bryant’s first-inning home run was the second allowed by Josh Tomlin his last 44 innings. Addison Russell’s third-inning home run was the second Dan Otero had allowed in six postseason innings. In the regular season, Otero gave up just two homers in 70.2 innings.
Russell’s grand slam was the first ever hit by the Cubs in the World Series, and the first ever surrendered by the Indians.
The total of seven stolen bases in Game Five — four by the Cubs, and three by the Indians — fell one short of a World Series record. The Cubs (7) and Tigers (1) combined for eight steals in Game One of the 1907 World Series.
Rajai Davis’s three steals on Sunday made him the fifth player to nab as many bases in a World Series game. The feat was previously actualized by Lou Brock (twice), Willie Davis, Melvin Upton, and Honus Wagner.
Joe Maddon downplayed his team’s National League-best (non-Coors Field division) offensive attack prior to Game Five. He did so when asked about the doldrums it had encountered in the postseason.
“I know we have this wonderful run differential, but a lot of that is based on our pitching staff and defense,” said Maddon. We did have some games where we scored lots of runs, but at the end of the day I think that run differential component is a little bit overblown based on other factors. Again, pitching and defense. We had our struggles offensively during the course of the season, too.”
Chicago’s plus-262 run differential was indeed the best in baseball, and Maddon has a point about run prevention. The 556 tallies they allowed was 66 fewer than the next best squad. As for the offensive struggles he cited, his club was held to one or fewer runs 19 times. Conversely, they scored nine or more runs on 20 difference occasions. On the season, they ranked third among the 30 teams with 808 runs scored.
Prior to Game Six, Ty Van Burkleo told me that Jake Arrieta has been difficult to game plan for because he hasn’t been as sharp as usual. According to the Indians hitting coach, Arrieta “was effectively wild with really, really good stuff” in his previous outing.
Francisco Lindor was certainly impressed with the righty last night.
“Arrieta was great,” said the Indians shortstop. “He had good stuff. He dominated us once again. We have to tip our hats to him and respect that he’s a Cy Young winner. He’s really good.”
Willson Contreras is a 24-year-old rookie with fewer than 100 big-league games under his belt. He’s unfazed by the bright lights. His bat has been a non-factor — he is 1-for-17 in the Series — but he’s been a positive behind the dish. That was especially the case when he caught Aroldis Chapman in Game Five.
Not only was Contreras composed — “I wasn’t nervous at all” — he took it upon himself to keep Chapman calm. The youngster said after the game that the Cuban closer was “kind of excited,” and that he needed to slow him down a few times.
There was no slowing down Chapman’s heater. He was clocked at 100-plus 19 times. There were also quality sliders. He only threw six (out of 42 pitches) but one caught Yan Gomes looking to begin the eighth. Three batters later, his inning-ending strikeout of Francisco Lindor was set up by a pair of of the secondary offerings.
I asked Contreras about the sliders after the game. His answer focused more on the fastball.
“Every pitch he made tonight was big for us,” said Contreras. “Especially with Lindor up there. He’s been on fire. [Chapman] painted the outside corner with 102 miles. That’s impossible to hit.”
Andrew Miller was asked how many pitches he has in him for Wednesday. He said he didn’t know. “Whatever it takes. Whatever I’m capable of giving.”
The Indians botched catchable a fly ball in the first inning last night, allowing a pair of runs to score. It was a play that either rookie center fielder Tyler Naquin or right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall could have made.
“You don’t expect balls like that, this late in the year, to drop,” said Rajai Davis. “That’s the kind of thing that happens in spring training. We can’t make that same mistake tomorrow.”
Davis said he expects to be in the starting lineup for Game Seven.
Francisco Lindor: “Tomorrow we have to go out there and help our pitchers. Naquin is a tough guy. He understands it’s part of the game. It’s just that we’re going to make mistakes. We’re not perfect. It just so happened that on that mistake, they scored a couple of runs. It’s part of the game, man.”
Wednesday night’s Cubs lineup featured six players under the age of 25: Kris Bryant (24), Willson Contreras (24), Jorge Soler (24), Kyle Schwarber (23), Javier Baez (23), and Addison Russell (22). No other World Series team has had more than five.
Addison Russell: “Halloween is my favorite holiday. It’s my nerd holiday. I go all out.”
Anthony Rizzo: “Tomorrow is an elimination game. If we lose we go home. If we win, there’s a giant party. But our backs are still against the wall.”
Eddie Robinson, the last living member of Cleveland’s 1948 championship team, was at Progressive Field last night. The 95-year-old former first baseman shared the following memory from that year’s Game Six clincher, which was played at Braves Field, in Boston.
“We didn’t celebrate like they do today,” said Robinson. “After we won, we went in and changed and got on the train. Once we got on the train, we had a dining car and a club car. That’s when the party started.”
Justin Grimm: “This is fun, but I don’t know if that’s even the word to describe it. It’s awesome. We have Game Seven tomorrow, and that’s where you want to be at, right? When we show up to the field, there are going to be a lot of eyes on us. Everybody is going to be watching.”