World Series 2016 Game 7 picks: Five reasons the Indians can win it all

CLEVELAND — One game will determine whether this long-tortured city will become the city of champions in 2016, celebrating a first major sports title won on home turf since 1964, or whether Cleveland will author one of the greatest chokes baseball has ever seen, going from 3-1 up in the World Series, 18 outs from winning it all, to allowing the Cubs to snap their 108-year title drought.Cleveland’s loss in Game 5 of the World Series on Sunday night was tight and painful. Cleveland’s loss in Game 6 of the World Series on Tuesday night was a three-hour inevitability after a three-run first inning for the Cubs marked by Kris Bryant’s homer and the cluster of ducks that flocked in the outfield, if you will, on Addison Russell’s gift two-run double. Those two games, however, are in the past. What lies ahead is that one game to settle everything between a team that hasn’t won the World Series since 1908 and a team that hasn’t won the World Series since 1948. This is why Cleveland is going to emerge victorious.MORE: The 10 most memorable Game 7s in World Series history, ranked 1. Corey KluberAs of Saturday morning, there had been 24 times since the addition of the division series to the playoffs that a pitcher had worked on short rest in the World Series. Those pitchers had gone 9-7 with a 3.12 ERA. Now it’s happened 27 times, and the record is 10-9 with a 3.44 ERA, because after Kluber was brilliant in Game 4, both Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin were ineffective to say the least. This was somewhat predictable given the track record of short-rest starters in the World Series, where elite performers have risen to the occasion and others have sputtered. Kluber is the former.Kluber has started twice on short rest already in these playoffs, so he knows what he’s doing. In those two starts, he has pitched 11 innings, given up three runs on nine hits with three walks, and struck out 13. What’s more, he’s coming off a start in which he threw 81 pitches, his fewest of the playoffs. He was better in his three days’ rest start following an 88-pitch outing than the one after he threw 100 pitches in Game 1 of the ALCS. (Getty Photo) “Who else would you want?” Cleveland second baseman Jason Kipnis said. “That’s our stud. That’s our guy. That’s our bona fide ace. You ask everybody in here who we want on that mound, and you’re gonna get Corey Kluber as the answer.”Kluber has pitched at least six innings in four of his five playoff starts, the exception being his loss in Game 4 in Toronto, when he threw 89 pitches in five innings, gave up two runs and was pulled in order to save his arm in case he was needed in Game 7, which wound up not happening because Cleveland won the series in five. He certainly could have pitched more than the six innings he did in Game 4 of this series, but was saved for this game, which wound up happening. There’s nothing to save Kluber for now, so as long as he’s dealing, he’ll be in there.Meanwhile, the recent track record of Game 7 starters in the World Series is good, though the sample size is small. The last eight men to start Game 7 on three days’ rest have recorded at least a no-decision, with five of their teams winning. The exceptions are the 1986 Red Sox, who left Bruce Hurst in too long and allowed the Mets to tie the game against him before a bullpen implosion; Atlanta in 1991, with John Smoltz leaving a scoreless duel against fellow short-rest starter Jack Morris in the eighth inning before the Twins won in 10; and Cleveland in 1997, when Jaret Wright was brilliant into the seventh inning and Jose Mesa coughed up the lead in the ninth before the Marlins won in 11.The last six home teams to trot out a Game 7 starter on three days’ rest have won, with the only starter not to be credited with a win being Curt Schilling, who got off the hook for the loss when Arizona rallied against Mariano Rivera in 2001. The last short-rest Game 7 starter who lost at home was Bob Gibson in 1968, while Jack Billingham got a no-decision in 1972 after allowing one unearned run to the A’s in five innings.FAGAN: We've never seen a Game 7 quite like this2. Facing Kyle Hendricks a second timeAdmittedly, this did not work out so well for the Dodgers in Game 6 of the last round, as Hendricks pitched 7.1 innings of two-hit shutout ball to help Chicago clinch its first National League pennant since 1945. This, however, is a different ball of wax.For one thing, this will be Hendricks’ first start of the 2016 playoffs on the road after four at home. Including the playoffs, Hendricks went 10-3 with a 1.32 ERA at Wrigley Field this season. On the road, he’s 7-6 with a 2.95 ERA, and 11 home runs allowed compared to five at the Friendly Confines. (Getty Images) Then, there’s the matter of the lineup Hendricks is facing. Even as he held Cleveland scoreless in Game 3, the right-hander lasted only 4.1 innings because his pitch count was up to 85 and he got into a jam. Cleveland’s lineup should have some confidence in its ability to drive Hendricks from the game and either get into the soft underbelly of the Chicago bullpen or force Joe Maddon to try something unconventional, using a starter like Jon Lester in relief.3. Battle of the bullpensBecause Tomlin got knocked out early and Dan Otero proceeded to allow a grand slam to Addison Russell, the first batter he faced, Terry Francona was able to manage Game 6 with pretty much full knowledge that he was going to a Game 7. That meant a second straight day off for Cody Allen, who threw 36 pitches on Sunday, and a third straight day off for Andrew Miller, who has appeared in nine of Cleveland’s 14 playoff games and logged 17 innings, averaging 29.1 pitches per appearance.Miller’s high for the playoffs is 46 pitches, thrown over two innings in Game 1 of the World Series, when he was on five days’ rest. In a Game 7 scenario, you have to figure he’s good for something in that neighborhood, if not more.MORE: The 2016 World Series in photosOn the other side, the Cubs found themselves in a precarious position on Tuesday night. Even though Chicago had a five-run lead in the seventh inning, Maddon felt the need to go to Aroldis Chapman to get out of a jam with two runners on base and Francisco Lindor up. The move was debatable – the leverage in that situation was lower than the first pitch of any ballgame – but Maddon didn’t want to mess around, and it somewhat indicated the lack of trust he has in his other relievers.Not only does Francona have more arms that he truly believes in, and not only has he generally appeared to be the better tactician in this series – the Game 5 miscue that was understandable, but still a miscue, of leaving Trevor Bauer in too long notwithstanding – Francona has the fresher arms. Chapman has thrown 62 pitches in two outings over the past three days. On the few occasions that Chapman has thrown that many pitches over even three outings, there has been copious rest involved either during or after that stretch. That won’t be the case this time if he’s needed to protect a lead. While there’s no evidence that pitching on zero days’ rest has hindered Chapman this season, he’s into uncharted territory, and the heart of the Cleveland order has now gotten multiple looks at him.“We’ve just got to try to get the barrel to the ball,” said Lindor, who thought he had an infield hit until replay showed that Chapman – who had only one strikeout among his five outs – got his foot on the base first. “That’s what I did today, and he just got there a little quicker than I did.”If Lindor gets a third at-bat in four days against Chapman, he’s going to like his odds of being able time that triple-digit fastball.FAGAN: Maddon gets the benefit of the doubt for how he used Chapman4. Three for allYes, it’s just one game, and when you come into a Game 7 situation, everything becomes a sample size of one. But there’s also the simple fact of how difficult it is to beat Cleveland three straight times.Cleveland’s last three-game losing streak was August 23-25, on a road trip to Oakland and Texas. Only twice all season did Cleveland lose three in a row at home: May 29-31 against Baltimore and Texas, and August 1-3 against… wait a minute, Minnesota? Really? The Twins? OK, baseball is weird.Anyway, there’s a reason that nobody has pulled off the comeback from 3-1 down in the World Series since the 1985 Royals: it’s incredibly difficult to beat a team good enough to take a 3-1 lead in three straight games. The Cubs are a really good team, and Cleveland has not beaten them in three straight games either. Cleveland won one, the Cubs won one, Cleveland won the next two

and the Cubs won two after that.MORE: Jason Kipnis brings hot bat into World Series Game 7There also are times when a team loses Game 6 and you can tell they feel like they’ve lost their best shot. That wasn’t the case in the Cleveland locker room on Tuesday night, not by a longshot.“I’m excited,” Lindor said. “This is what we’ve always wanted. There’s not one kid, not one of us, when we were growing up that, you know – everyone has it, Game 7, 3-2 count. No one of us said Game 3, Game 5. So, I mean, this – this is what we want. Obviously, we wanted to finish it earlier, but this is a dream come true and here we are.”Said Kipnis: “Being up 3-1 has put us in this position. It’s a fortunate position to be in, where you can lose two and still have a chance to win. Getting out to that lead means we’re still here and we’re playing for Game 7. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We knew they’ve got a great ballclub over there and they’re lined up with their three-headed monster pitching staff. It’s gonna be a fun one. We’re still very confident. They’ve done a great job of playing with their backs against the wall, and now we’ll see how we do.” Getty Images 5. WalkaboutIn their three wins, Cleveland pitchers have racked up 31 strikeouts while issuing only four walks. In their three losses, it’s been 28 strikeouts and 14 walks. Give the Cubs that many extra baserunners, and they will make you pay.In the Cubs’ three wins, they have 31 strikeouts and 11 walks, while their pitchers in losses have struck out 29 and walked 10. Those numbers would be a lot different if not for the fact that Arrieta is a different sort of pitcher who walks more than his fair share but gives up exceptionally few hits.What’s clear, though, is that the onus is on Cleveland pitching. Kluber is super good at not walking people, with a 35/8 K/BB ratio in the playoffs after finishing eighth in the American League in that category this year – his third straight season in the top 10. Among qualified starters, anyway. Miller’s figure was 123/9, 46/2 after he got to Cleveland at the trade deadline and 29/4 in the playoffs. Allen’s mark was 87/27 in the regular season, 22/4 in the playoffs.Cleveland, with the pitchers it has going, is really good at doing the things that keep the Cubs from scoring runs. What that means is that Cleveland just needs to get on the board and protect the lead. The road map to do that is there — drive up Hendricks’ pitch count and make Maddon manage to the weak spot of his team. That’s the best way to do what Madison Bumgarner, the Game 7 hero two years ago, said before this year’s National League wild card game was the most important thing to do in the playoffs: “Score more runs than they do.”The teams that have followed Bumgarner’s plan? They’re a whopping 34-0 in this year’s playoffs. Cleveland has what it takes to make it 35-0.