Can the Cubs get off their Achilles heel?
Maybe the most interesting analysis I’ve read of the team is Dave Cameron’s breakdown of how Cleveland’s pitching has dominated their lineup (with the exception of Trevor Bauer). He works off something that MLB stat expert Mike Petriello presciently noted before Josh Tomlin dominated the Cubs in Game 3: Tomlin has of late thrown more curveballs, with more spin, that are landing lower in the zone, and the Cubs struggle against curveballs.
And as Cameron notes, Bauer didn’t attack their weakness:
Bauer was great through the first three innings, mixing the Kluber-esque front-door two-seamer with a curve he was locating, but in the fourth, he had to face the middle of the Cubs order. And he decided to challenge them with fastballs.
Leading off the inning, Kris Bryant saw three straight fastballs, launching the third one into the left field seats to tie the game. That was followed by a first-pitch fastball to Anthony Rizzo, who hit it into the ivy in right field. Having just seen his fastball get crushed on back-to-back pitches, he decided to try the breaking ball, but bounced one to Ben Zobrist, who is the one guy in the line-up least likely to chase a bad pitch. Then he missed with another fastball and a change-up, falling behind 3-0, before throwing Zobrist a 3-0 fastball, which was promptly lined into right field for a single.
In Game 6 of the NLCS, Clayton Kershaw—less curveball-dependent, but also very good at throwing one—couldn’t locate his curve and the Cubs took advantage. Expect Tomlin to throw a lot of them, and watch what he’s able to do with them.
Can Javy Baez take a ball?
Baez is the subject of three different articles today that are all basically about the same thing: he’s getting killed, he’s getting killed by breaking pitches, and he’s especially getting killed by breaking pitches low in the zone.
The book against Baez is so simple that you and I know it, without high-level playing experience or access to advance-scouting reports: Don’t throw him a pitch in the strike zone, particularly with two strikes. Instead, expand the zone, preferably with something that spins.
For all the good he does on the field — and he’s still been doing that good — and for the occasional maturity he’s flashed at the plate, this is still a guy who’s walked just 17 times for 125 strikeouts to date this year, and who, largely because of that, was below league average at the plate.
20.51% of all the pitches he’s faced have come in that bottom right section, and almost exactly 1 out of every 3 (32.1%) pitches have come in those three bottom right zones (again, all out of the strike zone). The Indians’ pitchers have identified Baez’s weakness and have tested it on him aggressively.
Again, what’s made Josh Tomlin so good in the playoffs, after an undistinguished regular season as a back-of-the-rotation starter, has been his ability to paint the bottom right-hand corner of the strike zone with a great curveball. Baez is in the lineup tonight—his defense is so good that it’s hard to pass up—but he’s buried down in the ninth spot.
Can Jake Arrieta throw his slider?
Eno Sarris has a great analysis of what Arrieta was doing with his slider in his amazing 2014-2015 seasons and his merely good 2016 season, finding that it’s not as effective, and that he’s using it less. But he’s also re-upped his usage of the pitch in the playoffs, even though it’s still not as effective as it was in his two breakthrough seasons. Over the course of the playoffs Arrieta’s K/9, BB/9, and ERA have been about what they were during the regular season; it’ll be interesting to see if Arrieta continues to try to wield the pitch.
What will the Cubs do with their bullpen?
We know what Cleveland will try to do—try to get to Andrew Miller and Cody Allen and hope they can sustain their unsustainable performance for one more game. As Aaron Gleeman points out, as good as Tomlin has been, he’s also had an incredibly short leash. If Arrieta has to come out early, look for Mike Montgomery, but Dave Cameron has an interesting idea: with the season on the line, the guy getting them to Chapman and Game 7 could be John Lackey.