Deep start from Hendricks
The perfect scenario would be for Kyle Hendricks to throw a complete game, but that is unlikely in a high-stress Game 7, especially for a pitcher who averaged 6 1/3 innings with two complete games in 30 starts this season. But the deeper he goes the less they have to rely on any reliever not named Aroldis Chapman. The non-Chapman members of the bullpen have posted a 4.07 ERA this postseason. The fewer outs manager Joe Maddon needs from any of them, the better. And the best scenario of all is, of course, handing the ball straight to Chapman.
For the season, Hendricks was 7-6 with a 2.95 ERA in 16 starts on the road, compared to 9-2 with a 1.32 ERA at home. In Game 3 of the World Series at Wrigley Field, he battled through 4 1/3 innings, giving up six hits and walking two, but did not allow a run. He struck out six. He'll have to do better than that -- on the road -- in Game 7.
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Have an effective Chapman
That only works, of course, if Chapman is effective. He threw 42 pitches over 2 2/3 innings to close out Game 5 and came on to get four outs in Game 6, closing out the 7th, then pitching the 8th and the first batter of the ninth. He threw 20 pitches.
Last year as a member of the Reds, Chapman threw 83 pitches in three appearances over four innings against -- coincidentally enough -- the Indians and Cubs. In the first two games -- one against the Indians and one against the Cubs -- he threw 57 pitches over three innings, allowing no runs on two hits and one walk with 7 K's. In the last game against the Cubs, he struggled, allowing a run on three hits and two walks in one inning. Chapman already is at 62 pitches over the last three days, so how effective he will be in Game 7 is far from certain.
"You always want to win the game," Indians manager Terry Francona said, "but the next best thing -- and we've talked about this before we even started -- was try to make them use pitching even in a loss. So we hung around enough, at least Chapman had to pitch. You never know, maybe that helps us."
Get the measure of Kluber
Third time's the charm. This season, 11 pitchers made at least three starts against the Cubs. In their third starts, they gave up a collective 37 runs over 50 innings, for a 6.66 ERA. This will be the third time the Cubs will see Corey Kluber in the Series, and they need to maintain the same approach at the plate -- make him work and throw a lot of pitches for an early exit. They had better at-bats the second time against Trevor Bauer in Game 5 and Josh Tomlin in Game 6.
THREE KEYS FOR THE INDIANS
Have Kluber be Kluber
When the Fall Classic began, Cleveland aligned its depleted rotation so that Kluber could take the ball in Games 1, 4 and 7, if the Series went the distance. With Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar unable to start due to injuries, the Indians knew that it would be imperative to win the games started by Kluber. So far, that plan has worked, but now Game 7 has gone from if necessary to reality.
In Game 1, Kluber held the Cubs scoreless over six brilliant innings in which he struck out nine and walked none. Working on short rest in Game 4, the former Cy Young Award winner spun another six frames together, limiting Chicago to one run and ending with six strikeouts. The ace has a 0.89 ERA in the postseason, a 0.75 ERA in the World Series and the Indians need him now, more than ever, to step up again.
Grab an early lead
Cleveland's October formula to date has been get a lead, get enough innings from the starter and turn things over to Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen. That is what got the Indians to the World Series, and it is the way Cleveland can capture its first championship since 1948. Helping matters for Game 7 is that Kluber is the one Tribe starter who has consistently worked deep into a game.
During the playoffs, Cleveland has gone 8-1 when scoring first, with the exception being Game 5 of the World Series. If the Indians can grab a quick lead, Francona can be more aggressive with Miller, who has 29 strikeouts (a postseason relief record) in 17 innings. Kluber, Miller and Allen have accounted for roughly half of Cleveland's innings this postseason, and Francona would surely like to stick with that plan in the final game.
A little help from his friends
Dating back to Game 2 in Cleveland, Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis has swung a hot bat, doing his part within a lineup that has a few cold spots. Following an 0-for-5 showing in the Series opener, Kipnis has hit .381 (8-for-21), and his four homers in the postseason lead the team. In the Tribe's Game 6 defeat, the second baseman accounted for two of his club's three runs.
Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez have also performed well for the Tribe, but inconsistency has plagued the rest of the order. Slugger Mike Napoli has been in a slump since the start of September and has gone 4-for-19 in the World Series. Roberto Perez, Rajai Davis and Lonnie Chisenhall have also cooled off. The Indians were second in the AL in runs scored this year due to their lineup depth. That needs to show up in Game 7.