Jon Lester and Corey Kluber will face-off tonight in what promises to be an exciting Game 1 of the 2016 World Series. Both pitchers have dominated in the postseason thus far, both sporting E.R.A.’s under 1.50 in the playoffs.
Lester and Kluber rely heavily on their ability to strikeout their opponents. Kluber averaged 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings this season while Lester was only a tick behind at 8.7 strikeouts per nine. Whoever has the ability to execute when it matters most, especially in the early innings, will give their team an edge as both managers turn the game over to their stellar bullpens.
For the Indians, the acquisition of Andrew Miller morphed the team into a lethal October ball club. Because managers are able to use their bullpens differently in the playoffs (heavier workloads are more prevalent because of the frequency of off days), the Indians are going to try and shorten tonight’s game. If they can get ahead and turn it over to Miller in the 6th, it will spell trouble for the vaunted Cubs offense.
Yesterday, Kevin Millar of MLB Network criticized those who believe that the Indians will win Game 1 game simply because they will steal bases on Jon Lester and his inability to throw the ball to any base. Millar cited the Indians propensity to steal bases throughout the regular season did not extend into the postseason, as they have only stolen three bases over the course of eight games.
However, I would argue that Francona and the Tribe were simply being more selective with where they chose to steal bases because of the impact their bullpen has at the end of the game. The Indians only stole three bases, but they were all early in the game off of the opposing teams starting pitchers. Mike Napoli (yes, the 34 year old 225 pound Mike Napoli) swiped a base off of David Price in Game 2 of the ALDS in the bottom of the third.
Rajai Davis stole a base in Game 2 of the ALCS when J.A. Happ was pitching in the bottom of the third. In Game 3 of the same series, Coco Crisp stole second off of Marcus Strom in the top of the second inning.
All three bases were stolen early in the game, which seem to correlate with the Indians game plan of getting ahead early, and turning the game over to Miller and closer Cody Allen. The Indians do not need to be aggressive later in the game when all they have to do is keep their opponent. The confidence Francona has in his bullpen (specifically Miller and Allen) was represented in his decision to not run later in games.
While the line-ups have yet to be announced, the Indians will likely try and run early and often to get a lead. Do not be surprised if Francona hands the ball to Miller in the 6th rather than trying to squeeze and extra inning out of Kluber. I am taking Kluber, the bullpen and Cleveland base stealers to lead the Tribe to victory in Game 1.
Game 1 Prediction: Indians over Cubs