Cubs vs. Indians: Keys for Each Team to Win World Series Game 7

Seth Gruen@SethGruenFeatured ColumnistNovember 2, 2016

Cubs vs. Indians: Keys for Each Team to Win World Series Game 7

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    Game 7. In combination, those two words stand as the greatest in the lexicon of sport. So they're worth repeating: Game 7.

    That's what the 2016 MLB season will come down to: one final game.

    Every pitch will be scrutinized. Every ground ball will mean something. Every hit will be followed by unparalleled emotion.

    If you're a baseball fan, you couldn't ask for more. Unless you're a fan who lives in Cleveland or Chicago. Then you could ask for a World Series title, which either the Indians or Cubs will walk away with Wednesday night.

    But to win the most important game in the histories of each of these long-suffering organizations, both teams will need to hit on the following keys. 

Indians: The Second Time Through the Order

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    The Cubs are scheduled to start right-hander Kyle Hendricks on Wednesday, a far different pitcher than Cleveland saw Tuesday in Jake Arrieta, the Chicago starter who went 5.2 innings in his team's series-tying Game 6 win.

    Hendricks led MLB with a 2.13 ERA this season, but did so unlike his counterparts in the Cubs rotation. He's not the type of pitcher who can overpower a lineup like Arrieta. Instead, he enjoyed success this season with outstanding stuff and great command.

    But a pitcher like that can more easily be sized up.

    After seeing Hendricks the first time through their lineup, the Indians should have a good idea as to how he will attack them in terms of pitch selection and sequence.

    Though Hendricks was Cy Young-worthy this season, hitters were able to hit above .306 when swinging at the first pitch, .324 in 0-1 counts, .314 in 1-1 counts and .333 in 2-0 counts.

    That's likely the result of Hendricks' style of play in that it can become predictable. That doesn't necessarily mean they're guaranteed to hit the right-hander the second time through the order.

    But it suggests that hitters have been able to predict his tendencies earlier in an at-bat. And having faced him once, Cleveland may be able to capitalize the second time around.

Indians: Give the Bullpen a Lead

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    A great bullpen is most effective when its offensive counterparts have done their job.

    Pitchers can only prevent runs. They can't put them on the board. So if Cleveland is behind in a game or tied, the team's outstanding bullpen cannot be nearly as effective.

    But if Cleveland's bullpen is given the opportunity to pitch with a lead, it's likely the city will enjoy its first World Series win since 1948.

    Left-hander Andrew Miller, closer Cody Allen and right-hander Bryan Shaw have been outstanding this postseason. In fact, they've been just about unhittable.

    The trio did not pitch in Tuesday's Game 6, which means they're fresh and can be used for multiple innings. That's a scary thought for Cubs hitters.

    Expect Miller to pitch at least two (more likely three) innings in Game 7. He should be the first among Indians relievers to get the ball.

    And he'll be much more effective if he takes the mound with a lead. Because when he does, Cleveland is nearly invincible.

Indians: The Kluber Hat Trick

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    On Wednesday night, Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber will have a chance to become the first pitcher to win three World Series games since Randy Johnson in 2001.

    Kluber won Games 1 and 4 of this World Series.

    He will face baseball's ERA champ, Hendricks, who is much less experienced but no less capable and on short rest to boot.

    But the right-handed Kluber has allowed three runs total and added as many shutout outings this postseason. In his two World Series starts, he allowed only one run.

    Simply, he has been dominant. He'll need to dominate one more time for the Indians to win Game 7.

    Even in offensive-friendly Progressive Field, runs should be difficult to come by Wednesday. Kluber will have little margin for error against Hendricks, who has also pitched well this postseason.

    But Kluber has a chance to put immense pressure on the Cubs by stymieing their offense, especially given the aforementioned play of Cleveland's bullpen.

Cubs: Hit the Curveball

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    With the exception of outfielder/second baseman Ben Zobrist, the Cubs, as a whole, have struggled to hit curveballs this season. 

    That's a problem, because that's Kluber's favorite out pitch. According to FanGraphs, he threw his curveball 19.7 percent of the time this season.

    In Games 1 and 4, Kluber had success getting the Cubs to chase his curveball, even when he threw it out of the zone. Chicago knows it's coming but has struggled to do anything with the pitch.

    On Wednesday, the Cubs will see the pitch again, and they'll see it often. Given their struggles against Kluber, he could even throw it with more frequency than he did during the regular season. Maybe even more than he has all postseason.

    So it makes sense that Chicago's success at the plate will come down to whether or not they can hit Kluber's curveball.

    Struggle to hit the pitch, and it's a virtual guarantee that Game 7 will look like Kluber's last two starts.

Cubs: Chapman's Longevity

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    In Tuesday's Game 6, manager Joe Maddon made the most head-scratching of moves when he sent closer Aroldis Chapman out for the seventh inning of a game that his team led by five runs.

    It wasn't a save situation. In fact, the game was never really in doubt. But nonetheless, Chapman was used for 1.1 innings, which he needed 20 pitches to get through.

    That the left-handed flamethrower was used by his manager in such a lopsided game is an indictment of the rest of the Cubs bullpen, which Maddon clearly doesn't trust.

    All that means it's likely Maddon will need Chapman for an extended outing in Game 7. Whether the Cubs find themselves behind, tied or in the lead in the late innings, Chapman will pitch.

    But having also thrown 42 pitches in Sunday's Game 5, it's unclear just how fatigued Chapman may be. He previously made it known that he prefers only to pitch in the ninth inning in an interview with MLB.com's Mark Sheldon. But Maddon will ride Chapman until the Cubs win Wednesday or until he can't throw anymore.

    It's just unclear when the latter might be.

Cubs: Hero Ball

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    The hero in Tuesday's Game 6 was shortstop Addison Russell, who drove in six of Chicago's nine runs. He also hit a grand slam, becoming the first to do so in a World Series since Paul Konerko in 2005 as part of the Chicago White Sox team that won the series that year.

    It was as much a product of great hitting as it was circumstance.

    Russell hit sixth Tuesday night. The four batters ahead of him—Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Zobrist—combined for nine hits and two walks. So Russell had several opportunities with runners on base in Game 6.

    Which Cubs player may get those opportunities in Game 7 is unclear. But they'll need a Russell-like performance to come away with a World Series title on Wednesday.

    Two of the last three batters in Chicago's lineup Tuesday—catcher Willson Contreras and right fielder Jason Heyward—were hitless. So holes in this lineup still remain despite the team's offensive outburst Tuesday.

    As such, whoever gets the run-producing opportunities among hitters higher in the order will need to capitalize. They can't rely on a top-to-bottom effort, especially with the continued struggles of the bottom third of the order.