This is it. Two of the greatest words in the sports lexicon: Game. Seven. Just four hours of baseball separates us from the cold, cruel winter—can you tell I live in Minnesota? The Cubs send out the 2016 NL ERA leader who was far better at home than on the road, while the Indians are leaning on a reliable old friend to pitch them to glory. No matter what happens, it’s bound to be epic. Check ’em out!
Kyle Hendricks (CHC) versus Corey Kluber (CLE)
8:00 p.m. ET, FOX
The structuring of each team’s World Series rotation is a master’s level class unto itself. Terry Francona set it up so that the team would only need to steal one game not started by their world-class ace, while Joe Maddon is leaving it in the hands of easily the most unproven of the four pitchers in his October rotation. But you can argue about means and methods all day long, and the honest-to-goodness truth is that, for the most part, they’ve both been vindicated. Maddon relied on his two big guns to erase a 3-1 deficit, while Tito merely needed the Tribe to steal a non-Kluber start somewhere along the way—Josh Tomlin’s Game 3 start, as it were. And now leverage has swung back in favor of the Indians, especially if you don’t believe in game-to-game momentum. I sure don’t. Hendricks, who in a neutral location still would be at least third if not fourth on the list of Cubs pitchers preferred to start this game, will take the ball with the numbers not in his favor. Sure, he led the NL with a 2.13 ERA this season to go along with solid peripherals across the board, but that was fairly heavily tilted by the game’s best home ERA (1.32) and better numbers across the board at Wrigley Field. Hendricks battled in Game 3—4.1 scoreless innings, six hits, six strikeouts and a pair of walks—but he’s going to have to test his mettle on the road this time. This is his first postseason start away from Wrigley Field this season. Chances are, he won’t be long for the game—good, bad or otherwise.
Kluber has been stupendous so far in October (0.89 ERA) and especially so in this series (12 innings, one run, 15-1 K/BB). Francona has limited his workload beautifully as well, as each of Kluber’s last three starts have resulted in fewer than 90 pitches thrown. Each and every pitch conserved will be huge in this one, and if he can give the Indians just five innings, that should significantly stack the deck in their favor. If he can go six with any sort of lead, and hand the ball off to Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, they’re going to be dancing in the streets of the Cleve until dawn. You can say this about the series: not only has the player-to-player combat been special, but the tactical maneuvering by both of the managers has been especially good as well. How else can you keep four-hour games as must-watch television six times in the span of a little over a week?
As an aside, this will obviously be the last pitching matchup column of the season, and we just want to thank you for tuning in and making this a great season. Be safe, and enjoy your winter!