The Cleveland Indians have one more chance to put away the Chicago Cubs and end their 68-year World Series drought. And now that it’s gone all the way to Game 7, they have to make a change.
That means starting Rajai Davis in center field and benching struggling rookie Tyler Naquin. When asked if he expected to start Wednesday, against Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks, Davis said yes, according to The Plain Dealer, though he didn’t clarify whether that would be in center or left field.
Sure, Davis normally doesn’t start against right-handers, but this is Game 7 – when even the slightest mistake can mean the difference between a euphoric win or a heartbreaking loss. And the Indians need to look no further than Game 6 for proof of that.
Naquin and right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall allowed a routine flyball to drop between them in the first inning, turning a 1-0 deficit into a 3-0 deficit from which Cleveland never recovered. Indians manager Terry Francona admitted after the game that Naquin should have made the play. From MLB.com:
“Lonnie went hard after it, as he should, but it's Naquin's ball. He was playing on that side and he's the center fielder. And I think at the end there, as Lonnie was kind of pulling off, Naquin was yelling, 'It's yours. You got it.' It's pretty loud anyway.
“We kind of told Nake, especially playing on that side, that's his ball. Just take charge and take it. He kind of made it hard on Lonnie, because you've got to go hard until you hear something. That was an unfortunate play, because we thought we were out of the inning.”
Incredibly, the same scenario almost unfolded just two innings later, before Chisenhall stepped in front of Naquin to make the catch on a Kris Bryant flyball.
Naquin struggled defensively all season but remained in the lineup because of his bat (.296/.372/.886 with 14 homers). However, he is 1-for-7 with five strikeouts in the World Series and just 4-for-23 with 14 strikeouts this postseason. Chief among them was the strikeout with the bases loaded in the fourth inning of Game 6, when even a single could have sparked a rally.
Davis, meanwhile, is 3-for-17 in the World Series and 3-for-29 this postseason. However, he can cause disruption on the bases (three stolen bases in Game 5) and is much stronger defensively.
The Indians can't give away any more runs and can't afford even one defensive blunder Wednesday night.