The Chicago Cubs got their split from the first two games behind some clutch hitting from Kyle Schwarber and good enough pitching from Jake Arrieta. Wednesday's 5-1 victory over the Cleveland Indians sends the World Series to Wrigley Field for the first time since 1945. That sounds like fun to me.
1. The legend of Kyle Schwarber adds a new chapter. We don't yet know the arc of Schwarber's career. Maybe he'll simply be a productive player and fan favorite for a few World Series winners. Maybe he'll develop into one of the great sluggers in Cubs history. Heck, maybe he'll get traded to the American League and become a designated hitter. Whatever happens next, his story in 2016 is why we love October. We crown a champion, but it's how we get there that creates the stories we remember and tell our kids. There's a good chance Cubs fans will be telling their kids about this one for a long time.
Schwarber's season was over April 7, after a horrific outfield collision with Dexter Fowler. Somehow, a thousand or so pitches off a pitching machine and two games for the Mesa Solar Sox were deemed adequate preparation for the most important games the Chicago Cubs have played, well, ever. In Game 1, Schwarber lasered a double off the wall and drew a walk off Andrew Miller. In Game 2, he got the green light on a 3-0 count against Trevor Bauer and grounded an RBI single to center field in the third inning to give the Cubs a 2-0 lead. In the fifth, he hit another RBI grounder up the middle for a 4-0 lead and later scored to make it 5-0. In the sixth, he drew a four-pitch walk. He's tracking pitches and working deep counts, both singles were hit hard, and the Cubs' risky decision to activate him -- and Joe Maddon's decision to bat him fifth -- has paid dividends.
There will be a lot of talk about playing Schwarber in the field when the series shifts to Wrigley, but no way do I see that happening. He was a lousy outfielder before his injury, he hasn't caught a fly ball in six months, and before Game 1, Maddon said Schwarber hadn't been medically cleared to play the field. Still, Schwarber now becomes a valuable presence off the bench -- and not only if he gets into a game at a key moment. Even the threat of his pinch hitting could affect Cleveland's strategy. (After the game, Schwarber didn't say whether he's physically able to play the field but said simply, "We'll take it day by day. We'll see.")
Remember, Schwarber hit five home runs last postseason. No player with as many plate appearances has a higher postseason OPS than Schwarber's 1.274. I don't think we've heard the last of him in this World Series.
It is impossible to overstate the insanity of what Kyle Schwarber is doing. Because it's literally the first time anyone has done it.— Ken Tremendous (@KenTremendous) October 27, 2016
2. Jake Arrieta was effectively wild. After walking two batters and throwing 23 pitches in the first inning, Arrieta settled down and took a no-hitter into the sixth before Jason Kipnis doubled. Since Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series, Arrieta became the seventh pitcher to take a no-hitter into the sixth inning in a World Series game (Jim Lonborg of the 1967 Red Sox lasted the longest, at 7⅔ innings). Arrieta never seemed particularly sharp, however; indeed, 34 percent of his pitchers were deemed "non-competitive," which means nowhere near the strike zone. That was his highest such rate of the season. He got better as the game progressed, throwing 49 percent strikes the first two innings and 60 percent after that. The Indians squared up a couple of balls, but after Jose Ramirez flew out to medium-deep center to end the first, they didn't threaten until they scratched a run across on a wild pitch in the sixth. Maybe it wasn't as pretty as Corey Kluber's Game 1 effort, but the Cubs will take it.
Jake Arrieta faced 22 hitters in this game and 10 of them were in hitters' counts. But the bottom line: He leaves with Cubs leading 5-1.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) October 27, 2016
3. Trevor Bauer was terrible, and so was Cleveland's defense. Whether it was the cold weather (43 degrees at game time), the injured pinkie, the lack of work or just a bad game, Bauer had trouble throwing strikes. He threw 29 pitches in a long top of the first inning and had thrown 87 when he finally exited after 3⅔ innings. He had trouble getting his curveball down in the zone, and if he isn't getting swing-and-misses with that pitch, he's going to struggle.
The Indians didn't help on defense. In the first, after Kris Bryant lined a one-out base hit, Anthony Rizzo doubled into the right-field corner. There appeared to be a play at the plate if the Indians executed a proper relay, but Lonnie Chisenhall came up throwing to second base instead of hitting the cutoff man, and preempted any chance to get Bryant at home.
After Bauer exited, Chisenhall slipped on Ben Zobrist's double into the corner, which turned that into a triple and allowed Rizzo to come around from first base. Later in the inning, Kipnis bobbled a routine grounder, which led to an unearned run. Look, no player will admit the weather played a factor, but Chisenhall's slipping and Kipnis' error -- and the troubles Bauer and Arrieta had throwing strikes -- might have been related to the cold. When players are wearing masks and ski caps, it's certainly not ideal baseball weather. But thus is the pact MLB has made with the television networks to play the most important games of the season in potentially winter-like temperatures. Luckily, the rain held off, and the game was able to finish, despite a snail-like pace of 4 hours, 4 minutes. (And, yes, these long games are a problem.)
I suppose you might as well get your inefficient Bauer, scuffling Shaw, Salazar rust-shaking & no-hitter all out of the way in the same game— Zack Meisel (@ZackMeisel) October 27, 2016
It has taken us 3:06 to get us to Stretch. Forty years ago, Yanks-Reds played a 5-1 game in World Series. Whole game: 2:10.— Joe Posnanski (@JPosnanski) October 27, 2016
4. Rizzo and Zobrist: Locked in or something like that. Kluber managed to jam Rizzo three times on inside fastballs in Game 1, but after that 2-for-26 start to the postseason, the Cubs first baseman is looking like the hitter who put together an MVP-caliber regular season. In his past six games, he's 9-for-24 with two home runs, three doubles and three walks. Zobrist went 3-for-4 in Game 1 and 2-for-4 with a walk in Game 2. That's the Cubs' game: patience and power. They didn't hit the ball out of the park in this game, but they drew eight walks.
Anthony Rizzo has seen an absurd amount of pitches tonight.... He's fouled off 12 pitches. pic.twitter.com/hrXNbNAT8r— Daren Willman (@darenw) October 27, 2016
5. Next up: a day off! Indians manager Terry Francona didn't have to use Miller or Cody Allen, so everybody will be ready in both bullpens. Some questions: Can Schwarber play the field? Will Jason Heyward get a start? Have we seen the last of Tyler Naquin starting in center field (3-for-18 with 11 strikeouts in the postseason)? How will Josh Tomlin pitch to Rizzo? Do the Indians try to get Carlos Santana in the field somehow? (He's been shagging fly balls but hasn't played outfield since he played four innings there in 2012.) What will the price for tickets climb to?
The good news: It's supposed to be 67 degrees on Friday in Chicago, with a low near 60 at night and a low chance of rain ... though winds of 15 to 25 mph are expected.