It all comes down to this. The Indians will either clinch their championship title or watch the Cubs force the series back to Cleveland for Game 6, with the potential for a nail-biting Game 7 finish on Wednesday. While it has no bearing on the Cubs’ chances this year, it’s worth noting that Chicago has dropped five of six World Series that have gone to at least six games, excepting a 3-3-1 tie in 1885 that, barring a considerable change of heart from Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, is unlikely to repeat itself in 2016.
Left-hander Jon Lester (19-5, 2.44 ERA) gets the ball for the Cubs on Sunday after going 5 2/3 innings during the Indians’ 6-0 blowout in Game 1 of the World Series. Elsewhere in the postseason, he’s been nearly untouchable, holding opponents to two runs, two walks, and a .189 average while striking out 14 batters over 21 innings.
For the Indians, it’s Trevor Bauer (12-8, 4.26 ERA), who will follow Corey Kluber as the second Cleveland pitcher to make a start on short rest in the 2016 World Series. Bauer appeared in Game 2 of the series, expending 87 pitches, two runs, two walks, and two strikeouts over 3 2/3 innings as the Indians fell to the Cubs, 5-1. Unlike Lester, Bauer’s postseason has been a rocky one. Injuries and the usual case of playoff jitters have produced a 5.00 ERA in October, and the right-hander has yet to pitch past the fourth inning in any of his starts.
At the plate, the Indians have proven themselves more than capable of handling the Cubs’ starters. Francisco Lindor turned heads on Saturday, reaching base twice and becoming the youngest player to reach seven multi-hit games in the postseason (per MLB Stat of the Day). Big knocks from Carlos Santana, Coco Crisp, and Jason Kipnis have also proved key in the Indians’ three World Series wins, while some of the Cubs’ hottest hitters coming into the Fall Classic (breakout star Javier Baez, MVP candidate Kris Bryant) have found their efforts repeatedly stymied by the Indians’ pitching staff.
Should the Cubs press Bauer’s weaknesses for a late-series comeback, they’ll send Jake Arrieta against Josh Tomlin on Tuesday, with the possibility of a Corey Kluber-Kyle Hendricks finale on Wednesday. Neither Tomlin nor Kluber will have the benefit of pitching on regular rest, which could give the Cubs the edge they need to take the series.
For now, however, they just need to focus on getting through Game 5.