Key Game 4 matchups to watch

Key Game 4 matchups to watch

Just as they did in the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers, the Cubs find themselves facing a 2-1 deficit following the Indians' 1-0 victory in Game 3 of the World Series on Friday night at Wrigley Field.

In that previous series, coming off two straight shutouts, Chicago's bats perked up and scored 23 runs over three straight victories to advance to the Fall Classic. Standing in the way of a repeat performance is a Cleveland club that has thrown a postseason record five shutouts, including two in this series.

Game 5: Tonight, 8 p.m. ET on FOX

Those forces will collide in tonight's Game 4 at the Friendly Confines. Here is a breakdown of what to watch for:

Starting pitchers
Indians RHP Corey Kluber: With Cleveland's rotation still undermanned, Kluber -- who threw 88 pitches over six scoreless frames in a Game 1 win -- will work on short rest for the second time this postseason and in his career. He also did so in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series in Toronto and responded well. Although he took the loss, Kluber showed close to his typical velocity and limited the Blue Jays to two runs on four hits over five innings.

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If he manages to put up another zero in Game 4, he would become the first pitcher in history to author four scoreless postseason starts in one year, breaking a tie with the Madison Bumgarner (2014 Giants), Kenny Rogers ('06 Tigers) and Christy Mathewson (1905 Giants).

Cubs RHP John Lackey: The veteran, who turned 38 on Sunday, will break a tie with Hall of Famer Whitey Ford for sixth place on the all-time list for postseason starts. With his 23rd career postseason start, and third this year, Lackey will trail only John Smoltz (27), Greg Maddux (30), Roger Clemens (34), Tom Glavine (35) and Andy Pettitte (44).

This will be Lackey's first home start this postseason. The righty's ERA was far lower in 2016 at Wrigley Field (2.62) than away from it (4.37), and he allowed two earned runs or fewer in 11 of 16 outings at home.

State of the bullpens
Neither club's relief corps is in bad shape, with Game 3 coming on the heels of an off-day.

Indians: Skipper Terry Francona used his top trio of left-hander Andrew Miller and right-handers Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen in Game 3. Shaw threw 31 pitches, his third-most in a game this year. But Miller and Allen fired only 17 and 18 pitches, respectively, setting up Francona to deploy them freely in Game 4.

Must C: Tribe's bullpen seals it

Cubs: Francona's counterpart, Joe Maddon, went to five relievers, although only Carl Edwards Jr. (seven batters faced, 24 pitches) pitched more than an inning.

Matchups to watch
Kluber vs. Ben Zobrist: The Cubs left fielder picked up two of the four hits his team collected against Kluber in Game 1, including a double. Zobrist, who has been operating out of the cleanup spot, is 6-for-13 with two extra base hits in the World Series.

Mike Napoli vs. Mike Montgomery or Aroldis ChapmanFrancona will have Napoli waiting in the wings when a lefty reliever is brought in to face Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall or Tyler Naquin. But Napoli will most likely pinch-hit for either Chisenhall or Naquin.

Final thoughts
If the Indians steal another game in Chicago, they will have a chance to become the 11th straight team with a 3-1 World Series lead to claim a championship. In World Series with a 2-3-2 format (instituted in 1925), teams to hold a 3-1 edge on the road have won 16 of 19 times -- not losing since the Orioles fell to the Pirates in 1979.

On the other hand, if the Cubs even the Series, history bodes much better for them. When those 2-3-2 World Series have been knotted at 2-2, teams able to win Game 5 at home have gone 11-10, including a victory for the 2014 Giants over the Royals.

Andrew Simon is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.