World Series Game 6 preview: Can Cubs stay alive again vs. Indians?

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The Cubs' hopes of ending their 107-year title drought were preserved with Sunday's 3–2 victory at Wrigley Field, but the Indians still have the upper hand in the series and two chances to close out what would be their first championship since 1948 on their home turf. Here are a few thoughts on Tuesday night's game.

Home Sweet Home

The Indians tied with the Rangers for the American League's best home record during the regular season (53–28) and are 5–1 during the postseason, having outscored their competition 22–10. The Cubs had the majors' second-best record on the road (46–34), though they're just 4–3 away from Wrigley Field during the playoffs, outscoring their opponents, 34–30.

Via WhoWins, World Series teams leading three games to two and playing the final two of a best-of-seven at home have a series record of 21–6 (.778). Here are the six teams who came back to win the last two games on the road:

1926 Cardinals over Yankees
1934 Cardinals over Tigers
1952 Yankees over Dodgers
1958 Yankees over Braves
1968 Tigers over Cardinals
1979 Pirates over Orioles

The last three of those teams came back from down three games to one, where the Cubs found themselves after Game 4.

The Pitching Matchup

In Jake Arrieta's three turns this postseason, he's pitched to a 3.78 ERA and 3.51 FIP in 16 2/3 innings, making it through six only in Game 3 of the Division Series against the Giants. On a per-batter basis, his postseason strikeout rate has been roughly in line with the regular season (23.5% vs. 23.9%), and his walk rate has been significantly reduced (5.9%, as compared to 9.6% prior). Batters have nonetheless worked the count against him more effectively, as he's averaged 4.09 pitches per plate appearance, compared to 3.92 during the regular season, which is one reason why he's been hooked earlier.

Batters are hitting .143/.167/.286 with two strikes against Arrieta in the postseason—that amounts to four hits, one of them a homer, so small-sample caveats apply—but as a baseline for comparison, they hit .117/.205/.188 against him on two-strike counts during the regular season. Righties have dinged him for a .333/.375/.333 line in October compared to .194/.250/.307 during the regular season; meanwhile, he's been slightly more effective against lefties, who were largely responsible for his decline from the lofty heights he reached in 2015. As FanGraphs' Eno Sarris noted, one reason for Arrieta's decline from his Cy Young peak is that his slider—which is actually two sliders, a hard, straight cutter version and a slower one with more break—hasn't been on par with last year's version, losing a bit of velocity and command, which has caused him to back off from the cutter version.

As for the bullpen, what Game 5 confirmed is that Joe Maddon's circle of trust isn't very large these days, with righties Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon taking a backseat to young Carl Edwards. Aroldis Chapman was brilliant in throwing 42 pitches for a career-high 2 2/3 innings en route to the save. He's presumably available tonight, and while he is on something of a mini-roll after a rocky start to his October, with 6 2/3 straight scoreless innings on just one hit and all three inherited baserunners stranded, it remains to be seen whether Maddon will be as aggressive with him on Tuesday night.

Josh Tomlin, who is working on three days of rest, came into the postseason with red flags concerning his home run and strikeout rates (1.9 and 6.1 per nine, respectively). So far, however, he's kept every ball in the yard, boosting his ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio from 1.24 during the regular season to 3.0 in the postseason, and he's struck out more (6.5 per nine). He has a 1.76 postseason ERA in 15 1/3 innings, including 4 2/3 in Game 3, when he allowed just two hits, both singles.

Underlying Tomlin's transformation has been an increased use of his curveball, and reduced use of his cutter amid a dramatically reworked arsenal

year fourseam sinker cutter curve changeup
Regular 30 7 41 15 7
Postseason 17 22 21 35 4

During the regular season, batters beat Tomlin's cutter like a rented mule, hitting .319 with a .556 slugging percentage against it, accounting for 20 of the 36 homers he allowed; for righties, the numbers were .349 and .563. He's spotted it more effectively during the postseason, and hitters have batted just .188/.250 against it. His curve, always a weapon against lefties (.136/.273 during the regular season) but a liability against righties (.346/.558), has become an effective weapon against both (.143/.143), though it's worth noting that amounts to just 14 balls in play. Welcome to Small Sample Theater.

As with his previous outings, expect Tomlin to make an early departure from Tuesday night’s game, ideally with Andrew Miller following. Miller, who threw 27 pitches in Game 4 and allowed his first postseason run in 25 1/3 innings, didn't pitch in Game 5; he should presumably be available for at least two innings if needed. He's now carrying an 0.53 ERA in postseason 17 innings, with 29 strikeouts from among the 62 batters he's faced (47%). Cody Allen, who threw 1 2/3 innings and 36 pitches in Game 4, should be available for more than an inning as well; he hasn't been scored upon in 11 2/3 innings thus far and has whiffed 22 of the 49 batters he's faced (45%).

Additional good news for Cleveland comes in the form of Bryan Shaw's mini-rebound. He's turned in three scoreless innings over his past two turns without walking a batter after allowing five runs and one inherited runner to score in his first eight appearance totaling five innings.

The Hitters

Good news for fans of sluggers: Thanks to the designated hitter, Kyle Schwarber will be back, and Terry Francona won't have to choose between Carlos Santana and Mike Napoli. After going is 3-for-7 with a double, two walks and two RBIs in the first two games in Cleveland, Schwarber got just one plate appearance in Chicago, popping up against Shaw as a pinch-hitter in Game 3. Santana, who made two starts in leftfield in Chicago, has the Indians' highest OPS in the series (.954, via .267/.421/.533 hitting), and while Napoli is just 3-for-15 with two walks, he did have a hard-hit ball off Edwards for a single, his first hit since Game 2.

On the Indians' side, Francisco Lindor leads all participants with eight hits and is batting .421/.476/.474 in the series and has gotten on base at least once in every game; he's hitting .360/.396/.540 in the postseason overall. Lonnie Chisenhall (1-for-13 in the series, .205/.220/.282) remains Cleveland's coldest hitter; it might make sense for Francona to turn to Brandon Guyer instead.

Meanwhile, Rajai Davis going 2-for-4 with three steals bodes well for Cleveland, too; he had been 1-for-23 in the postseason prior. While he won't run as wild against Arrieta as he did against Jon Lester, his ability to get on base could be a factor. Notably, Maddon used Willson Contreras (37% caught stealing rate) to catch Arrieta in Game 2 instead of Miguel Montero (11%), who had caught him in the first two rounds and in 20 of his 32 regular-season starts; the Indians didn't attempt a steal.

On the Cubs' side, their fourth-inning rally in Game 5 marked the first time all series they strung together three straight hits, and they collected three hits with runners in scoring position compared to just five prior. Still, such situations have dogged the team all postseason (.242/.299/.359) and particularly in the World Series (.170/.231/.170 with 22 strikeouts in 51 plate appearances). By comparison, the Indians have hit .233/.326/.411 in such situations in the postseason, and .194/.362/.361 in those in the series.

Game 5 saw Jason Heyward continue to make positive contributions with a single and a pair of steals; he's 3-for-7 in his past two games compared to 2-for-31 in the postseason prior. Kris Bryant, after starting the series 1-for-15, homered for the first time since the Division Series. Anthony Rizzo now seems to have his early October struggles behind him; after going just 1-for-23 with a pair of walks through Game 2 of the NLCS, he's hitting .382/.462/.706 in 39 plate appearances since. Ben Zobrist (.368/429/.526) has been the team's hottest hitter in this round, with a team-high seven hits.

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