Dave McCullough presents our World Series Game Five recap in which Cleveland took a three games to one lead.
The Cleveland Indians are one victory from a World Series title after Corey Kluber stifled the Chicago Cubs offense over six innings and gave up just one run in a 7-2 Game Four win. Carlos Santana led the Indians offense with a solo homer among his three hits, and Jason Kipnis clubbed a three-run homer in the seventh to bust the game wide open. Manager Terry Francona is now 11-1 in Fall Classic contests, and stands to earn his third title with his deft management of the pitching staff, bullpen in games, and pinch hitters. Every move the man known as Tito works out – such as Coco Crisp delivering another clutch hit in a key spot as a pinch hitter in the sixth inning – and every maneuver builds his reputation as the best postseason manager this side of Grady Little.
The Cubs manager Joe Maddon sent former veteran playoff ace John Lackey to the hill, trailing in the series two games to one. Lackey famously won Game Seven of the 2002 World Series as a rookie. His career playoff numbers are solid: 3.26 ERA in 135 ⅓ career innings entering the game. But his reputation is that of a “big game pitcher” and that time had ended as his ERA in the playoffs over the past three years (six starts) sat at 4.02. Lackey was clearly the Cubs fourth best pitcher this season: Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, and Kyle Hendricks all indisputably performed better this season. Yet Maddon chose to send Lackey out instead of Lester – who is a certified playoff ace: 2.60 ERA in 124 ⅔ innings.
Francona has been forced – mostly by circumstance – to work with far fewer Cy Young candidates in his rotation. Kluber, the 2014 AL CY Young winner, entered this postseason having missed the final few weeks of the regular season because of injury. But Francona has sent his still-recovering ace to the hill (now) five times and received 30 ⅓ innings and only three runs allowed. Sure, it helps to have a versatile relief ace like Andrew Miller – but Francona has brought Kluber back on short rest in both seven-game series. However, the Indians skipper has not let his fragile ace go more than six innings when on short rest, and has carefully managed his pitch count to maximize his use. By contrast, Maddon hasn’t aggressively gotten his best pitchers into as many innings as possible and the Cubs are on the brink of elimination.
The decision to start Kluber didn’t look like the right one off the bat as he allowed a leadoff double by Dexter Fowler in the first, then Anthony Rizzo singled him home for a quick 1-0 lead. But he quickly settled in and began throwing his breaking pitches for strikes. He went six full innings with just the one run allowed, walking one, and striking out six. Miller followed him, tossing his usual two innings with two Ks; however, he allowed a solo homer to Fowler in the eighth. Dan Otero worked a scoreless ninth inning.
While Lackey’s final line in the game is respectable – five innings, four hits, a walk, three runs, and two errors behind him – he wasn’t worthy of a player with a big game reputation: It was the mediocre work of a fourth starter. Lackey was in trouble almost right away, as Santana blasted a leadoff homer into the wind (blowing in) to tie the game. Lackey then was betrayed by his defense – third baseman Kris Bryant made two errors – and allowed another run before escaping. He allowed another run in the third.
Mike Montgomery took over in the sixth and went ⅔ of an inning, walking two and allowing a hit before departing with runners on. Justin Griimm followed, and in his ⅓ of an inning he allowed a hit and two runs. Travis Wood gave up the seventh run of the evening during his one inning of work. Hector Rondon pitched two scoreless innings at the end of the game, striking out two, but the Cubs offense couldn’t manufacture a rally.
Jason Kipnis’s three-run homer off Grimm in the seventh broke open the game, but the Indians really put this game away when Kluber kept the Cubs off the board until Miller came out of the pen for his usual dominance. Kipnis, Lindor, and Santana – the 2, 3, and 4 hitters – had eight hits and five runs driven in while making 13 combined trips to the plate. They punished Lackey’s mediocrity and they ravaged Maddon’s middle relief. Meanwhile, Francona just kept pulling the right levers and has Kluber and Miller combining for their second win in four games. The Indians have been more aggressive and have benefited from great performances from key players – and Joe Maddon’s stubborn adherence to “The Book”. The Cubs skipper hasn’t sent his best pitcher to the mound as often as possible. His tentative decisions have Chicago in a big hole.