Here, almost as succinctly as I can put it, is everything we know about Game Five:
It will be October 30th, the latest in the year the Cubs have played a game in franchise history.
Jon Lester will start against Trevor Bauer, so the Cubs will once again have the advantage in the pitching matchup, playoff experience, and fully intact fingers.
Dexter Fowler will lead off for the Cubs, followed by Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Ben Zobrist. The bottom of the lineup will include Addison Russell, Javy Baez, David Ross, and a right fielder. This, on paper, will be the better offense and defense.
Terry Francona’s squad will counter with the same core group of Francisco Lindor, Mike Napoli, Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, and José Ramírez in some order near the top of the lineup. Three outfielders (Crisp, Chisenhall, Naquin, Davis, and Guyer are options) will find their way into the lineup. Michael Martinez will not.
Andrew Miller will be available, whether Francona admits as much or not.
Joe Buck will say that he knows he’s been talking about Lester’s issues with throwing to bases a lot, and then continue to do so anyway.
More than 42,000 fans will pack into Wrigley’s friendly (and very expensive) confines. Many thousands more will pack into Wrigleyville (BP and otherwise), some probably angry at themselves for still wanting to be there when history happens, whatever that history may be.
Some things will go right. Some things will go wrong. The air will be sucked out of Wrigley at least once, maybe more than that. There will also be cheering.
That’s about it. That’s all we know for sure.
There’s a lot more going on in the background, of course. The past plays a bigger role in Cubs games than any other franchise. You can’t help and I can’t help but see past failures in the failures of the present. Every bad swing is reminiscent of Alfonso Soriano waving helplessly at the last pitch of the 2008 NLDS. Every foul ball down the line and error in the infield is reminiscent of 2003. And every missed strike call is reminiscent of every other one, and every bad game is reminiscent of every bad game before that, and, without success to stymie it, this past just snowballs and snowballs and, weirdly, becomes the present. It’s a self-enforcing collective memory. It’s narrative, the creation of which is an incredibly human instinct. When the Cubs are losing, we feel like we’re watching an old movie, and we know the ending.
But after that big windup, here is my banal thesis: we don’t know the ending yet. Not even close.
The Cubs have already broken with the past. In organizational ways that aren’t worth rehashing here, they are already in their franchise’s brightest period of living memory. There is no good argument that the Cubs aren’t the best team in baseball, and there is no good reason to think that they won’t be for the next several years.
Also, ahem, THEY WON 103 GAMES AND THE NATIONAL LEAGUE PENNANT. The narrative of the Cubs’ unavoidable futility is over. The narrative of their inability to get over the hump in the playoffs is over. The memory of 2003 didn’t seem to phase Kyle Hendricks in Game Six against the Dodgers. Russell is making plays at shortstop just fine—he isn’t thinking about Alex Gonzalez. When Baez swings through a pitch and grimaces, he isn’t reliving 1989; he’s just frustrated. Honestly, it would be shocking if Willson Contreras knows or cares who Leon Durham is.
What to Watch For:
Therefore, here are some things I believe can happen (and are maybe likely to happen) in Game Five of the World Series. The 2016 Cubs are still the best team in baseball and have given us 103 (plus eight) reasons to believe that:
Lester will take his playoff experience and his even-more-important 2.44 ERA/3.10 DRA to the mound and dominate Cleveland for seven innings.
Bauer (3.95 ERA/4.12 DRA) will struggle to find the strike zone at times as he did this whole year (3.3 BB/9) and in Game Two. He’ll on a short leash, and won’t make it through the fifth inning.
Fowler will get on base in the first and spark an early rally.
Bryant will hit a dinger (as he’s done 40 times this year).
Rizzo will hit a dinger (as he’s done 34 times this year) .
Zobrist will have two singles and 12 pitch at-bat (he had 4.17 pitches per plate appearance this year).
Ross will throw out two baserunners.
Russell will double into a corner and make some smooth plays at short.
Baez will start a triple play by catching a line drive in his mouth.
The Cubs will score off the tough Cleveland bullpen.
The Cubs’ bullpen will slam the door.
A Game Six will be played in Cleveland on Tuesday.
It won’t be the past that determines the winner of tonight’s game. It’ll be the Cubs and Cleveland. It is still unlikely that the Cubs will win this series, but it is likely that they will win this game. If they do, they’ll continue writing the new narrative that isn’t actually so much a narrative as it is an ascendant group of excellent baseball players. And if they don’t, well, that’s just baseball.
Lead photo courtesy Jerry Lai—USA Today Sports.