The simple soluition: The Indians need to score more runs than the Cubs in one of the three games at Wrigley Field. But there is nothing simple about this task. The Cubs had the majors’ best home record during the regular season and have lost there only once there during these playoffs.
Chicago would love nothing more than to end this miserable 108-championship drought at the Friendly Confines and kick off the party of the century.
Meanwhile, Cleveland would love to win all three at Wrigley. But what the team really needs is just one victory. Here’s how that can happen:
Grab the early lead
This has been the critical first step in the Indians’ postseason formula, followed by the starter pitching well enough to hand the ball to Andrew Miller and Co. with a lead. In fact, Cleveland is 7-0 when it scores first in these playoffs.
However, that is tough to do when the Indians aren’t hitting and aren’t running the bases. And they aren’t. In 10 games this postseason, the Indians are slashing .210/.271/.379 and have scored more than four runs in a game once since the start of the ALCS (while scoring two or fewer four times). Losing the DH won’t help, so it’s time for Jason Kipnis and Rajai Davis to heat up.
But there was a silver lining in the Game 2 loss: Andrew Miller and Cody Allen weren’t summoned, and also had Thursday’s off day to rest.
Survive with their 'other' starters
Game 3 starter Josh Tomlin was good enough (5 IP, 2 ER) in the clincher against the Red Sox in the ALDS, and solid (5.2 IP, 1 ER) in the Game 2 win over the Blue Jays in the ALCS. He must deliver a similar performance Friday.
And then there’s the potential nightmare in Game 5, at which point the Indians absolutely cannot allow their season to be on line. Cleveland can’t trust Trevor Bauer — who would be on short rest anyway after throwing 87 pitches in Game 2 — to make that start. And is it realistic to turn to rookie Ryan Merritt and hope for another miracle? Or to Danny Salazar, whose relief appearance Wednesday was his first game action in nearly seven weeks?
The easy solution simply is to …
Get another gem from Corey Kluber
The Klubot was absolutely dominant in Game 1, striking out nine and holding the Cubs scoreless. Better yet, he threw only 88 pitches, so he would be primed to return on short rest in Game 4.
There’s little reason to expect Kluber to struggle, but there is a potential parallel here that should terrify Cleveland. Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw shut down the Cubs the first time he faced them in the NLCS, but those same hitters pounded him the second time.
It’s nearly impossible to silence the Cubs’ lineup twice, even for a former Cy Young Award winner.
Tighten up the D
The Indians had committed just one postseason error (in the Game 4 ALCS loss to the Blue Jays) this postseason until Jason Kipnis was charged with two in Game 2 against the Cubs.
However, there have been defensive lapses that haven’t shown up in the box score. Remember Rajai Davis throwing home in the seventh inning of Game 1 when he could have doubled off Kyle Schwarber at second base? Or Lonnie Chisenhall doing the exact opposite and inexplicably throwing to second base instead of to the plate in the first inning of Game 2?
The Cubs don’t need help putting up runs.
Give fewer free passes
The Cubs led the majors with 656 walks during the regular season, so they are obviously a patient team. But there’s no excuse for the eight walks that five Cleveland pitchers handed out in the Game 2 loss. That is basically the equivalent of Trevor Bauer swimming with sharks after cutting his finger on a drone.
Luckily for the Indians, Game 3's Josh Tomlin was the majors’ stingiest starter, averaging just 1.0 walk per nine innings.