Second City November: World Series Game Six Preview, Cubs (2-3) at Cleveland (3-2)

Second City November.

For all that a Cubs World Series provokes a constant parade of precious, sepia-toned comparisons to the world as it was in years of past glory, baseball this late in the calendar year is entirely without parallel for the Cubs as a franchise. Perhaps you haven’t heard, but back in 1908, we hadn’t yet invented radios, or sliced bread, or the month of November. Trust me on this.

Still, there’s room for mentioning certain historical truths, such as this being the Chicago Cubs’ first integrated World Series. Maybe it’s suitable, given the upcoming election, to reflect that the last time the Cubs won it all, women didn’t yet have the right to vote. Considering that no team these days works wholly without algorithms and sabermetric number-crunching, we can note that before computers or even electronic calculators, some of those same suffrage-denied women also acted as their era’s data processors.

It’s breaking news, I know, that things are different than they were a century ago, but rather than existing just as “fun facts” or as ominous cultural measures of a generations-long drought, these differences really should serve to emphasize how irrelevant the distant past is to young players like Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, or Javier Báez.

While this organization carries with it the dual burden and burnish of history, this team is an unmistakably modern one for plenty of reasons, and it’s been dictating its own history-independent narrative for all of 2016. Yes, the Cubs’ backs are against the wall again in this win-or-go-home Game 6, but they’re also just one game from tying up the series. They’re two games from a championship.

The 2016 Chicago Cubs are capable of winning two straight against anyone.

The Pitching Matchup: Jake Arrieta vs. Josh Tomlin

While Jake Arrieta’s last outing was last Wednesday’s Game 2 back in Cleveland, Josh Tomlin returns to home turf to pitch on three days rest for just the second time in his career.

That said, Tomlin’s Game 3 appearance lasted just 58 pitches and 4 ⅔ scoreless innings, putting his 2016 postseason mark at three earned runs over 15 ⅓ innings for a 1.76 ERA. When looking at Tomlin’s regular season numbers, his 4.40 ERA, 4.84 FIP, and 4.17 DRA aren’t exactly intimidating, but his American League-best 1.0 BB/9 is something to marvel at, something which clashes with a normally very patient Cubs batting order.

Maintaining control of the strike zone will be essential while Tomlin mixes his sinker, cutter and curve. But should he falter or tire, there’s of course the Cleveland bullpen waiting in the wings, making pitching matchup previews which only include starters look extremely old-fashioned—not a 1908 sort of old-fashioned, but very September 2016, at least.

The stage is set for another heroic Andrew Miller effort. After tossing 46 pitches in Game 1, Miller’s usage has been closer to normal: 17 pitches in Game 3, 27 in Game 4. The southpaw was rested in Sunday’s Game 5, so he’ll be ready to rack up pitches if called upon, and he almost certainly will be, with Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen also available for backup.

As for Jake Arrieta, the righty allowed one run over 5 ⅔ innings his last time out, keeping Cleveland hitless into the sixth. With full rest going into this start, the Cubs would like to see him lock in his command and go the distance, keeping with their more typical pitcher usage, compared to Cleveland’s.

Aroldis Chapman’s 42 pitches in Game 5 marked a career high, but with Monday’s off-day and the stakes being what they are, typical pitcher usage will of course be no match for situational context in Game 6. All or nothing.

What to Watch For

.143/.143/.143 could be a fruitful reading on an unconventional slot machine someplace, but it’s also definitely Javy Báez’s slash line through five World Series games. 2016 saw the infielder make a marked improvement at the plate, becoming merely swing-happy rather than swing-delirious, but he’s reverted to his previous form lately, and the Cubs could really use the sort of electrifying performance he brought to the NLDS and NLCS.

Speaking of patience and plate discipline, the Cubs must work deeper into counts the way they’ve done all year, something that was more present in Sunday’s win. In Games 3 and 4 of this World Series, when the Cubs looked their most hapless, they saw totals of only 124 and 123 pitches respectively from Cleveland pitchers.

It’s always a matter, this postseason, of whether the Cubs offense shows up. As much as you can wring your hands about Jason Heyward starting or not, hitting balls beyond the infield or not, the fact is that this team won 103 in the regular season with him in the lineup most days, and that’s because of the likes of Bryant, Rizzo, Dexter Fowler, and Ben Zobrist.

Luckily, the return to Cleveland also means the return of Kyle Schwarber to the batting order and should turn this into a little bit less of a manager’s game, an area in which it feels unusual to be seeing Joe Maddon outmatched. At least it should spare us from scenarios such as Miguel Montero, Game 5 pinch hitter.

First pitch is at 7:00pm CT.

Lead photo courtesy Tommy Gilligan—USA Today Sports.

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