Sunday night’s hard-earned, tension-filled Chicago Cubs win ensured for us all that today would be simultaneously awesome, and also a continuation of that tension.
At 3-2, the 2016 World Series shifts back to Cleveland, with an ounce of the pressure shifting along with it. While I have no doubt that the Indians would be happy to win the title in front of their home crowd, I also have no doubt that they would have been plenty fine doing it in Chicago, where the Cubs were probably feeling the added pressure of not getting swept in the first three World Series games at Wrigley Field since 1945.
Now, the Cubs still feel pressure, I’m sure, but slightly less. The Indians are in front of their home crowd with their own drought to consider, and they will feel that extreme buzz from their fandom – a buzz that lifts you up, but also shines the brightest spotlight imaginable. And the Indians know, if they don’t win tonight, it’s winner-take-all tomorrow. They had three chances to win it all. Now they have just two. The Cubs, for their part, narratively settled into the position of just trying to make a series of it.
Jake Arrieta starts tonight for the Cubs at Progressive Field, as he did last week when he took a no-hitter into the sixth inning. Here’s hoping he is able to command his pitches a bit more in the early going, which could allow him to be just as dominant with his stuff, and also bridge the gap to the late-inning match-up relievers, or even just Aroldis Chapman, depending on how deep Arrieta goes.
Arrieta is expected to work with Willson Contreras behind the plate based on comments Joe Maddon made yesterday, and here’s hoping the two are on the same page.
Offensively, the Cubs need to be prepared for how Josh Tomlin handled them (and the Blue Jays and Red Sox before them in the playoffs) last time out: so much breaking stuff, so little of it in the strike zone. Tomlin abused the Cubs’ clear plan to hit a guy who usually works in the zone so much, knowing that urgency would be felt double because the wind was howling out. Tonight’s game plan for the Cubs must acknowledge that, even though Tomlin never walks anyone, that command ability also means he might continue to work just outside the strike zone to induce weak contact. It worked last time beautifully. May the Cubs find their discipline again, and make it his nightmare.
If the Cubs can pull that off, maybe they don’t have to worry about seeing guys like Bryan Shaw, Andrew Miller, and Cody Allen while trailing. Tomlin, for his part, will be working on short rest, though he threw only 58 pitches.