CHICAGO — With a 2-1 World Series deficit and home-field advantage slipping away, the Cubs needed this game. Instead, the Indians soundly defeated the Cubs 7-2 on Saturday night in Game 4, silencing the normally raucous Wrigley crowd and drastically decreasing Chicago’s chance of taking home the championship. In a World Series marked by low scores, Cleveland has shut down the Cubs’ bats more than ever this year.
Pitching has defined this World Series. The average number of runs per game so far has been only 5.5, which is tied with 2015 and 2011 for the lowest total since 1983. Offense is down even more when you take into account the higher regular-season scoring in 2016: This year has seen the largest gap between World Series runs scored and the regular-season average since 1966.
Paradoxically, neither team’s pitchers have been altogether overpowering. In Game 3, an inconsistent strike zone kept both teams from plating many runs. On Saturday, the Indians batters managed to capitalize on mistakes while Corey Kluber kept the Cubs quiet. Kluber’s final line (6 IP, 1 ER) is somewhat deceptive: Throwing on only three days’ rest, his stuff seemed to lack the crispness and velocity that usually characterizes one of the best pitchers in the American League.
But Kluber’s 81 pitches went through the sixth inning, enough to hand the game over to the invincible Cleveland relievers. Outside of a solo home run allowed to Dexter Fowler, the Indians bullpen stopped any further scoring. Between the shaky starters and overpowering relievers, the Indians have totally controlled the Cubs offense. The four World Series games so far have seen the Cubs score only 7 runs, which is a lower total than they’ve racked up in any four consecutive games in the 2016 regular season.
Part of the problem was bad luck and sloppiness on the part of the Cubs. That included two errors by Kris Bryant, the Cubs’ normally sure-handed third baseman. Another problem was a gusting wind that turned at least one probable homer into a double.1 But credit must be given where due: The Indians are executing their gameplan to perfection, getting small but reliable leads and then deploying their absurd bullpen to maintain them.
It will be hard for the Cubs to come back from this 3-1 deficit. As the Cavaliers taught us earlier this year, a 3-1 lead isn’t insurmountable, but Elo rates the Cubs’ the total chance of winning the Series at a measly 15 percent. (That’s a smaller chance than FiveThirtyEight’s election forecast model currently gives Donald Trump to win the White House.) But if Chicago is going to have any chance of a Series win, they’ll have to awaken their bats in Sunday’s game.