The stage is set for the Indians to do what the Cavaliers couldn’t: clinch a championship at home. After all, the Tribe really didn’t want to end this 68-year title drought from long distance, right?
Josh Tomlin is starting tonight’s Game 6, Andrew Miller is rested after not pitching since Saturday and the home-field advantage is theirs. It’s all set up rather nicely, and that’s great because the Indians need to end this now. In fact, they absolutely must end this now. Here’s why:
The Cubs already are confident
There was a real momentum swing in Game 5, transforming this Cubs squad from an extremely tight crew to a bunch of dudes who trick-or-treated in Chicago on Monday night before travelling to Cleveland.
We’ve seen the Cubs flip this switch before – in the NLDS against the Giants and the NLCS against the Dodgers – and pull themselves off the mat in the same fashion as Rocky Balboa, their new unofficial mascot.
Cleveland must land the knockout blow that San Francisco and Los Angeles couldn’t before this goes any further.
Corey Kluber isn’t actually a robot
The Klubot would never admit it, but he has to be gassed after pitching 30.1 inning in these playoffs. That came on the heels of a third consecutive 200-plus-inning regular season. Kluber already pitched on short rest in Game 4 and would be doing so again in Game 7.
As great as this guy has been, we’re starting to get into some serious unchartered waters here. Sure, he threw just 88 pitches in Game 1 and 81 in Game 4, but fatigue is a real factor – as is familiarity for the Cubs after already seeing him twice.
Kyle Schwarber is back
Reduced to pinch-hitting duty in Games 3-5, Schwarber will be at DH for the remainder of this series. In that role, he was 3-for-7 with two walks and two RBI in the first two games at Progressive Field. That included a double off Corey Kluber and a walk against Andrew Miller, so the less Cleveland sees of this guy the better.
Schwarber puts together solid at-bats, keeps the lineup moving and creates RBI opportunities for his teammates. It’s a much different lineup with him in it and not one the Indians want to face twice more.
Kyle Hendricks is on deck
The majors’ ERA leader worked in and of trouble in Game 3 while throwing only 85 pitches in 4.1 scoreless innings, but he isn’t the kind of tactician the Indians want to mess with in a do-or-die Game 7.
As impressive as Jake Arrieta was until the sixth inning in his Game 2 win, he was wild (three walks and a wild pitch). If they remain patient in Game 6, Cleveland’s hitters have a better chance of getting to Arrieta than Hendricks, who closed the door on the Dodgers' season in Game 6 of the NLCS.
The unpredictability of Game 7
Anything goes. That means the Cubs’ relievers also will be used for multiple innings, as will any starter not named Jake Arrieta. So, Jon Lester, who was lifted after 90 pitches in Game 5 would most likely be available. Ditto for John Lackey, who has quite a history in decisive World Series games.
The entire season can end on a fluke play, one amazing at-bat, a bad hop, a missed cutoff man or a missed sign, a single managerial decision, etc. Home-field advantage is nice but can mean very little in a Game 7 – as we saw just two years ago when San Francisco won one in Kansas City.
That pressure … oh that pressure
If this thing goes the distance, the Indians are going to be constantly reminded about the decades of disappointment they have worked so hard to erase. And, yes, that really is a thing.
The Game 7 collapse against the Marlins in 1997, the six-game defeat to the Braves in 1995, the three other postseason failures in the '90s, the 2007 ALCS disaster, all the years of sub-.500 misery, etc.
If the Cubs force a Game 7, the pressure will be squarely on the Indians, who would have missed two opportunities to end this series. And who will be questioning their ability to do so.