CLEVELAND — As it should be in baseball’s biggest showcase, a marquee pitching matchup is on tap tonight for Game 1 of the World Series, with Cy Young Award candidates set to open the Fall Classic at Progressive Field.
Corey Kluber, the 2014 Cy Young Award winner, will look to continue his postseason success — 2-1 with a 0.98 ERA in three starts — against baseball’s best in the Cubs, who owned the majors’ top regular-season record at 103-58.
“They’re a good team, obviously,” Kluber said. “They’ve been the best team in baseball all year. So they’ve got a lot of good hitters through their lineup, one through nine. It’s not really much of a different story than we’ve had the last two series. Really good offenses, and it’s just going to be a matter of going out there and executing.”
Manager Terry Francona is more than familiar with Kluber’s counterpart, Jon Lester, becoming close to the pitcher when he was his manager in Boston from 2006-11.
“When you know young players when they’re first coming through, like when they’re coming from Double-A, Triple-A to the big leagues, you almost get a little bit of a feeling, almost a paternal feeling,” Francona said. “So I’ve known him since he came to the major leagues. I’ve lived through him beating cancer and so I’ve known him for a long time.
“He’s one of my favorites. He’s one of everybody’s favorites though, so that’s an easy one. I won’t be pulling for him (tonight), but he’s very special. I’ve known his mom and dad for a long time, and he’s pretty special.”
Lester, a five-time All-Star and two-time Cy Young finalist, went 19-5 with a 2.44 ERA over 32 starts this year. He’s endured much-publicized problems throwing to first base during the postseason, but hasn’t allowed a whole lot of baserunners in going 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three playoff starts.
“One thing, you’ve gotta get on (base),” Francona said. “It’s pretty well-documented the problems he’s had, but if you take yourself out of your game, you look up in the sixth or seventh inning and it’s gone by you, and you’re asking guys to do stuff that they normally don’t do.
“The good thing is, again, we’ve gotta get on, but we’ve been a very good baserunning team. So hopefully that’ll be something that helps us have a chance to beat him.”
The Indians have overcome multiple obstacles to reach this point and are looking to vanquish a heavily favored opponent for the third straight postseason series.
“I don’t know if it’s just the group of guys that we have that we’re able to handle adversity well or we’ve also over the last couple years realized that’s the kind of baseball we need to play to be successful,” Kluber said. “Everybody kind of realizes that we each have our own job. It’s not one superstar going out there and carrying the team. I think that we’ve just kind of, I guess, in developing a culture of the team, that’s been part of it.”
Second baseman Jason Kipnis tested his sprained ankle, running the bases Monday at Progressive Field. Kipnis was injured while jumping into the arms of shortstop Francisco Lindor after the Indians clinched the ALCS in Toronto.
“He’s doing much better today,” Francona said. “He hit (Sunday) night in the (simulated) game. Again, he might not be 100 percent, but I don’t think it’s going to get in the way.”
Right-hander Trevor Bauer (lacerated right pinkie finger) faced hitters Monday for the first time since being forced from his Game 3 ALCS start in Toronto on Oct. 17.
Bauer is still listed as the probable Cleveland starter for Game 2 at Progressive Field on Wednesday night.
“When he gets through (batting practice), we’ll know a lot more,” Francona said. “The hope is that he’s ready to pitch on Wednesday. But if there’s any ambiguity or any questions, we’ll bump him back to Game 3.”
If Bauer is pushed back to Game 3 Friday in Chicago, right-hander Josh Tomlin will start Game 2.
Finding a spot
Carlos Santana took fly balls in left field Monday, indicating that the Indians may be considering playing him at the position when the World Series shifts to Wrigley Field and there is no designated hitter.
Santana began his career as a catcher and experimented at third base before moving to first base/DH. He has made one career appearance in left field (2012).
- Like the majority of his teammates, left-hander Andrew Miller is far from an expert on the Cubs.
“I don’t want to comment too much because I haven’t seen that much,” he said. “I know they’re pretty good. They have a guy that might win MVP in the middle of the lineup (third baseman Kris Bryant). (First baseman Anthony) Rizzo is a veteran at 25 years old. I’ve seen a lot of (second baseman Ben) Zobrist (in the AL).
“The National League is a different universe to someone in the American League. I have a lot of homework to do. But at the end of the day you trust what you’re good at. (Indians catcher) Roberto (Perez) is going to prepare and (pitching coach) Mickey (Callaway) is going to prepare. We know they’re going to be good. You don’t face a team that’s not going to be good at this point.”
- The Cubs will add outfielder Kyle Schwarber to their World Series roster, with last year’s postseason hero expected to serve as the DH tonight.
Schwarber, who was born in Middletown and attended Middletown High School, played in only two games before suffering a knee injury that was expected to sideline him until spring training.
Much has been made of the title droughts between the teams. The Cubs own the longest drought (107 years) in professional sports, while the Indians own the longest in the AL — 67. Not surprisingly, the combined drought (174) is the longest of any two teams appearing in the World Series since the White Sox and Astros.
“I know that’s a really cool thing for fans to talk about and stuff,” Francona said. “It really doesn’t enter into what we’re doing. It’s so hard to win anyway. I just think if you look too far back, you look too far forward, you miss what’s right in front of you.
“So these players have earned the right to try to see if we can beat the Cubs, and that’s going to be a tall enough task. But I don’t think we need to go back and concern ourselves with 40, 50, 60 years ago. Now, if you win, it makes for a cool story.”
- The Indians are making their sixth World Series appearance — 1920, ’48, ’54, ’95 and ’97, while the Cubs are appearing for the 11th time, but first since 1945.
- Cleveland and Chicago have split the all-time series 9-9, last meeting in 2015.
- The AL holds a 64-47 World Series advantage, but the NL has won four of the last six.
- An AL Central Division team has appeared in four of the last five World Series.
- Former Indians Kenny Lofton (Game 1) and Carlos Baerga (Game 2) will throw out ceremonial first pitches prior to the first two games at Progressive Field.
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