Second City October: World Series Game One Preview, Cubs (0-0) vs. Cleveland (0-0)

This piece, by BP Wrigleyville’s Cat Garcia, forms part of our in-house coverage of the playoffs, “Second City October”. More Game One coverage can be found here.

Well, this is it. It’s the moment that almost everyone, and I do mean everyone in the city of Chicago, around the country, and even around the world have waited for. The Chicago Cubs are playing in their first World Series in 71 years tonight at Progressive Field in Cleveland, Ohio. I would assume that no one reading this has ever witnessed the Cubs in a World Series before seeing as most of you probably were not born yet, but perhaps a grandfather told you a story about the last time this moment happened, or it was told to you through the lens of your mother’s memories as a small child.

Tonight in Cleveland, the Cavaliers will be raising the curtain on the 2017 NBA season at Quicken Loans Arena and have their ring presentation ceremony, while just across the street, their baseball team will look to give Cleveland hope of breaking the Cleveland Sports Curse two-fold.

But for the Cubs, Cleveland’s sports curse is a pittance. They’re on the road to something bigger, something that the sports world has waited 108 years for, something that people have lived and died on, lived and died before witnessing. They’ve made it to the big stage, now they just have to get to the final act.

Tonight, Jon Lester will take the mound to face AL Cy Young hopeful Corey Kluber to kick off the 2017 Fall Classic. Let’s take a deeper dive into the matchup.

The Pitching Matchup: Jon Lester vs. Corey Kluber

Cleveland has had their struggles putting together a stable rotation in the postseason, no doubt. It’s been the one area that’s raised concern for the Forest City boys all October, yet it hasn’t seemed to slow this team down, as they currently hold a 7-1 record this October. The only consistent and dominant force through it all has been Corey Kluber. Kluber pitched to the best ERA of his career in 2016 at 3.14, and thought FIP doesn’t seem to be as large of a supporter of Kluber (3.26 FIP) as DRA does (2.97), neither number has a large enough disparity from his ERA to wonder where Kluber’s true talent level really lies.

In the postseason, Kluber has been on his game as much as you could ever ask for, even having pulled one out of his hat in true October fashion and pitching on three days rest. Kluber has currently put together a line this October of 18 ⅓ innings pitched, with 20 strikeouts and just a 0.98 ERA, while allowing just seven walks in that stretch and giving up just one home run. Keeping the home run total low has been one of Kluber’s strengths in his first postseason appearance of his career, and both of the teams he faced (Boston and Toronto) had ranked sixth and seventh in ISO, respectively, so that was no small feat. (The Cubs were just behind both teams in eighth place.)

Progressive Field is quite neutral in terms of park factors, ranking at exactly 100. So, don’t expect the park to be a large factor (no pun intended) in the Cubs home run production in this series.

As a right hander, Kluber’s splits are interesting but there is nothing extremely monumental in them. Take a look:

Split Slash Line HR/9 K% BB%
v. LH .225/.289/.359 .81 23.4 7.1
v. RH .203/.261/.354 1.02 29.2 6.2

Back to those home runs, though. Kluber has allowed nine home runs during the regular season against left handed hitters while allowing thirteen to right handed hitters, which is evident in his HR/9 listed above. The slash line numbers are marginal in difference, but notice that for both sides of the plate the power numbers stay almost identical.

Kluber’s home and away splits are a bit interesting in the power department as well. At home in 2016, Kluber has given up fourteen home runs, while only surrendering eight on the road. Overall, Kluber’s home numbers are generally worse than his away numbers. Maybe for Kluber, homefield advantage in the World Series doesn’t play as big of a factor as it does for most. So maybe there is a secret the Cubs can exploit by way of home runs after all. The long ball has been a very large part of this October’s run production, and I certainly wouldn’t expect that to stop here.

The Cubs will need to jump on Kluber, and do it early, because after having a five day respite after their series win over Toronto, Terry Francona’s bullpen is rested and ready to go. That includes the unstoppable Andrew Miller.

As for Jon Lester, could the Cubs ask for more from their postseason hero than he’s been giving? Lester has pitched 21 brilliant innings over three starts, leading him to a postseason ERA in 2016 of just 0.86. Kluber’s ERA doesn’t look so grand now, does it?

Lester has walked just two batters while striking out fourteen this October, and only surrendered a single home run. I wouldn’t expect the dominance to stop there.

The biggest issue that Lester will face will be making sure he keeps Cleveland off the bases. Rajai Davis was the league leader in stolen bases this season with 43 swipes, and Cleveland stole the most bases in the American League this season at 147, something the squad hasn’t done since 1999.

Lester has surrendered 28 stolen bases this season, third most in baseball, and this is the one area that the Cubs staff as a whole will need to keep under control during this series. The first step to not allowing baserunners to steal? Don’t allow baserunners. Good thing that’s one of the Cubs strengths.

What To Watch For

Tuesday evening will be a two-fold reward for Cubs fans as it was announced earlier today that Kyle Schwarber was officially added to the postseason roster. Schwarber hit five home runs over 31 plate appearances in his first ever postseason last year, and will be serving as a DH in the American League ballpark. So keep an eye on Schwarber to do something monumental in his first trip back to a major league dish since April 8th. Baseball hasn’t seen much of Schwarber this year, and that could be used to the Cubs’ advantage.

Watch out for Cleveland skipper and postseason veteran Terry Francona to work the quick-hook with Kluber this evening. Any slipups he makes will warrant Francona to go to his well rested bullpen and ALCS MVP Andrew Miller with no qualms about it. Keeping Kluber fresh for another potential start in this series as well as using the best arsenal he has available to him is something Francona will be well prepared to do to attempt to start this series off in his squad’s favor.

Another thing to watch for? Simply stated, every moment. All the feelings you feel, good, bad, happy, sad — relish how fortunate you are to be watching this happen today. Don’t forget to enjoy it, because a lot of Cubs fans and baseball fans alike never got to see what you’re about to watch tonight. Just remember that.

Lead photo courtesy Dennis Wierzbicki—USA Today Sports.

Related Articles

Leave a comment

Use your Baseball Prospectus username