With the American League pennant wrapped up, the final stage of the 2016 MLB playoffs is nearly set as the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers are now interlocked in a 2-2 series.
For the first time since 1997, the Cleveland Indians are in the World Series. Despite several key injuries, the team used timely hitting and a dynamite bullpen to beat the high-powered Toronto Blue Jays in five games. Cleveland has not won baseball's top prize since 1948, which is the longest active drought of any AL team, per Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated.
As for the National League Championship Series, the Cubs bats finally showed some life to get Chicago back into the series. Meanwhile, the Dodgers' lack of pitching depth looks to be hurting the team the longer this matchup goes on.
Take a look below at the television and live-streaming schedule for the remainder of the postseason. Continue reading for a look at the top comments, highlights and key statistics for the Indians and the NLCS.
|2016 NLCS Schedule|
|Game||Date||Matchup||Start Time (ET)||Network||Live Stream|
|5||Thursday, Oct. 20||Cubs at Dodgers||8 p.m.||FS1||Fox Sports Go|
|6||Saturday, Oct. 22||Dodgers at Cubs||8 p.m.||FS1||Fox Sports Go|
|7*||Sunday, Oct. 23||Dodgers at Cubs||8 p.m.||FS1||Fox Sports Go|
|MLB.com; *if necessary|
|2016 World Series Schedule|
|Game||Date||Matchup||Start Time (ET)||Network||Live Stream|
|1||Tuesday, Oct. 25||NL Champion at Indians||TBA||Fox||Fox Sports Go|
|2||Wednesday, Oct. 26||NL Champion at Indians||TBA||Fox||Fox Sports Go|
|3||Friday, Oct. 28||Indians at NL Champion||TBA||Fox||Fox Sports Go|
|4||Saturday, Oct. 29||Indians at NL Champion||TBA||Fox||Fox Sports Go|
|5*||Sunday, Oct. 30||Indians at NL Champion||TBA||Fox||Fox Sports Go|
|6*||Tuesday, Nov. 1||NL Champion at Indians||TBA||Fox||Fox Sports Go|
|7*||Wednesday, Nov. 2||NL Champion at Indians||TBA||Fox||Fox Sports Go|
|MLB.com; *if necessary|
Cleveland Continues to Disprove Doubters
With two starters in Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar out with injuries, it appeared that Cleveland would not have enough pitching to conquer two elite offenses in Boston and Toronto. Yet, players like Ryan Merritt have defied that notion.
Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista seemed rather confident before taking on the unknown Merritt, a 24-year-old who made his second-ever MLB start—and first in the playoffs—in Game 5.
"With our experience in our lineup, I'm pretty sure [Merritt]'s going to be shaking in his boots more than we are," Bautista said prior to the game, per Sportsnet's Ben Nicholson-Smith.
After Merritt allowed only two hits in 4.1 scoreless innings in the Indians' 3-0 win, Cleveland was not shy in responding to the comments, per the Boston Herald's Evan Drellich:
Evan Drellich @EvanDrellich
A pair of Cowboy boots was just held up in clubhouse. "Sign em and send em to Joey Bats!!!" an Indians player I cannot identify yelled.10/19/2016, 10:57:31 PM
Cleveland ace Corey Kluber also took to Twitter for his own take:
While Merritt's performance helped clinch the series' deciding game, the Cleveland bullpen has been the star of its postseason run.
Manager Terry Francona has opted with leaning on his relief staff often in these playoffs, and the unit has shined, as the numbers below show:
|2016 Playoff Statistics for Notable Cleveland Relievers|
|Player||Innings Pitched||Hits||Earned Runs||Strikeouts||Walks|
Andrew Miller has led this charge, as the trade-deadline acquisition is leading the bullpen in innings pitched while absolutely dominating with a commanding fastball and complementary slider, netting him nearly two strikeouts per inning. His stuff was on full display in another extended appearance in Game 5 of the ALCS, via MLB.com:
Boston led the majors in runs scored this season, and Toronto possessed one of the scariest lineups in baseball that allowed it to rank fourth in MLB in home runs. Thus, the Cleveland bullpen should be able to handle either the Cubs or the Dodgers in the Fall Classic.
The key for the Indians will be building early leads. Kluber, and possibly Josh Tomlin, is the team's only given as far as a bona fide starter, so Cleveland cannot ride its rotation too heavily. If the Indians hold a lead by the fifth inning, they should be expected to win, which is a frightening proposition for opponents as the Cleveland bullpen essentially cuts the game in half.
Can the Cubs Continue Offensive Resurgence?
Despite featuring a deep, loaded lineup that is headlined by NL MVP candidates Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, Chicago has been mired in an offensive slump in these playoffs.
The team came into Game 4 of the NLCS averaging just over 3.5 runs per game and hitting .185 as a team, which is the worst by far of any club remaining in the postseason. Yet, Bryant was not too worried about his squad's struggles after it failed to score a run in consecutive losses to the Dodgers, per the Chicago Tribune's Mark Gonzales.
"We'll figure it out," Bryant said. "We're very confident here. The peaks and valleys of this game sometimes make you go crazy, but we got more games to play."
That assurance came to fruition, as the Cubs seemingly grabbed the momentum in this series with a 10-2 thrashing of Los Angeles in Game 4. The team scored all 10 runs in a three-inning span between the fourth and sixth with Rizzo breaking out of his slump for three RBI and Addison Russell hitting a two-run jack. The two were due to step up, per MLB Stat of the Day:
MLB Stat of the Day @MLBStatoftheDay
.@ARizzo44 & @Addison_Russell were 3-for-50 in the #postseason. 6 hits tonight. Naturally. https://t.co/o1cvlR0bX6 https://t.co/3fBAim0m1F10/20/2016, 4:14:14 AM
After the game, other Cubs echoed Bryant's sentiment that the team was confident it would find offense, including veteran Ben Zobrist, per CSN Chicago's Patrick Mooney:
Patrick Mooney @CSNMooney
Zobrist: "We know that our offense is too good to keep down for a long time. Hopefully, tonight was a big indication of what is to come."10/20/2016, 5:31:31 AM
Jason Heyward, another Cub in a deep offensive struggle, commented that just getting people on base was key to the team's performance, as it had not done that much this postseason, per Gonzales:
It was tough when you have nobody on base, trying to get people on base. Until you get somebody on base, you cant steal first. Until you can do that, it's tough. There's a lot of pressure, especially in the postseason. We were able to do that with some singles. It wasn't home runs. It was singles.
We got people on base and it allowed us to hit a ground ball to second base. The first (at-bat) was a tough AB, trying to put the ball in play. (Urias) made some pitches to Rizzo and me, but it's a lot easier to get that run home with a runner on third base with less than two outs.
The win was not without some controversy. With the game scoreless in the second inning, Adrian Gonzalez appeared to score at home, but he was called out in a play that stood up on review, via MLB.com:
This did not make a huge difference in the rout, but it could have changed the game a bit if the Dodgers began with a lead. Gonzalez was heard pleading his case from the dugout on Fox's television broadcast, and he continued to do so after the game, per Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register:
Bill Plunkett @billplunkettocr
Adrian Gonzalez: "I know I was safe. I was safe. ... Unfortunately it turned into a trial and they said there was not enough evidence"10/20/2016, 4:35:45 AM
In hopes of taking a critical 3-2 series lead, the Dodgers will turn to Kenta Maeda in possibly their last home game of the season. Maeda was roughed up for four hits and three runs through only four innings in his Game 1 start.
Los Angeles better hope Maeda rebounds from that performance, as it will take on an ace in Jon Lester who has thrived against the Dodgers this season.
|2016 Statistics: Lester vs. Los Angeles Dodgers|
|Date||Score||Innings Pitched||Hits||Earned Runs||Strikeouts||Walks|
|Oct. 15||Cubs Win 8-4||6.0||4||1||3||1|
|Aug. 28||Dodgers Win 1-0||6.0||3||0||6||2|
|June 1||Cubs Win 2-1||9.0||4||1||10||0|
The lefty has only allowed a mere two runs in three quality starts while consistently frustrating the Dodgers. This comes as no surprise, considering Los Angeles finished last in the majors this season with a .214 batting average against lefty pitching, according to MLB.com.
Whether or not the Cubs have completely broken out of their slump is not yet known, but the good news is that they do not need to replicate this for Game 5. Lester is an established star in the playoffs, posting a 2.57 career ERA in 18 appearances, including 16 starts.
Chicago will have a tremendous chance to take a series lead back home, as it should only need to score around its average for this postseason to pull out a win. However, this matchup could very well go seven games with Clayton Kershaw looming as a potential Game 6 starter.
Statistics are courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise noted.