Just like that, the Chicago Cubs suddenly have roughly a coin flip’s prospect of winning their first World Series in 108 years. The Cubs grabbed this chance by winning 9-3 on Cleveland’s home turf in Game 6 on Tuesday, evening the Series at 3-3. Chicago struck first, scoring six runs against the Indians’ Josh Tomlin, who was starting on three days’ rest. Now it all comes down to Game 7 tonight, when the Cubs will face another starter going on three days’ rest: the Indians’ unhittable ace, Corey Kluber.
The last time Chicago faced Tomlin, the result was very different. In Game 3, Tomlin — operating on a normal amount of rest — held the Cubs to only two hits over 4.2 innings, shutting down their offense in a 1-0 Chicago loss. Part of that dominance came from an inconsistently called strike zone, but Tomlin was genuinely sharp that night.
Tomlin couldn’t muster the same magic Tuesday. The major difference was the amount of rest. Since 2000,1 there have been 12 World Series starts on three or fewer days of rest by pitchers who also had at least one start with more rest in the same series (counting Tomlin in this series). The 11 pitchers who made those 12 short-rest starts tend to be among the best in baseball, including Curt Schilling, CC Sabathia and Josh Beckett (Schilling made two short-rest starts in the 2001 World Series). Overall, those 11 pitchers allowed an average of 2.6 more earned runs per nine innings in their short-rest World Series starts compared with their non-short-rest World Series starts. In other words, pitching on short rest added about 2.60 to their ERAs. Without complete time off, these starters got much worse in other key indicators: walks per nine innings rose by 0.6 while strikeouts per nine fell by 0.9.2
Kluber, the Game 7 starter, isn’t just any pitcher, of course. He’s one of the best in baseball, and he shut down the Cubs on short rest already once this series, in Game 4.3 And to make matters worse for the Cubs, Chicago manager Joe Maddon inexplicably put closer Aroldis Chapman into Tuesday’s game with the team up five runs in the seventh inning. That may have been because of a lack of trust by Maddon in his bullpen or simply extreme risk aversion in a big moment. After the game, he said, “I thought the game could have been lost right there if we did not take care of it properly.” Either way, Maddon taxed one of his best resources.
Meanwhile, the Indians kept both of their super relievers — Andrew Miller and Cody Allen — out of the game. If a tired Kluber does begin to struggle, Indians manager Terry Francona can turn to these arms for several innings. The World Series will therefore come down to a recipe that has worked so well for these Indians during the playoffs: a tired but effective Kluber, combined with fireman appearances by two top relievers. To break their championship drought, the Cubs will have to overcome this pairing like no other team has before in these playoffs.