Why the Cubs are in more trouble than you might think

Bauer, Arrieta ready for Game 2 (0:44)

Trevor Bauer and Jake Arrieta explain how they're feeling in advance of their matchup in Game 2 of the World Series. (0:44)

CLEVELAND -- Hey, far be it for us to send waves of alarm rippling through Cubs Nation after one game of a World Series -- even if it's a game they happened to lose 6-to-zilch Tuesday night to the fearsome Corey Kluber/Andrew Miller/Cody Allen division of those rampaging Cleveland Indians. But sorry. There's stuff you need to know about this.

So what do you say we get all the terrifying Cubs notes out of the way early on? It will be easier that way.

• Over the past three decades, almost every team that lost Game 1 of the World Series found it had just dug itself a canyon it couldn't climb out of. It's tough to comprehend, but Game 1 losers have lost the past six World Series. And 12 of the past 13. And 17 of the past 19. Not to mention 19 of the past 22 and 24 of the past 28. Going all the way back to 1997, the only two teams to lose Game 1 and survive were the 2009 Yankees and the 2002 Angels. Hard to believe in a best-of-seven series, but 100 percent true.

• Then there's the Cubs' own not-so-beautiful history when they lose Game 1 of any postseason series. Tuesday's Game 1 loss in Cleveland marked the 14th time the Cubs had lost the opener of any type of series. They went 1-12 in the previous 13, coming back to win only in the 2015 NLDS against St. Louis.

• If we confine this study just to best-of-seven series, it gets even more ominous. The Cubs now have lost Game 1 of a best-of-seven series 10 times. They're 0-9 in the previous nine. Then again, they're the Cubs! So losing series in just about every way possible has been one of their areas of expertise.

• Finally, the Cubs have now been shut out three times in this postseason. Of the seven previous teams to get blanked three times or more in the same postseason, just one -- the 1981 Dodgers -- went on to win the World Series. So are we saying there's a chance? Sure. Why the heck not?

But the words of wisdom emanating from the clubhouse of the National League champions sounded remarkably similar to the words welling up from that same group a week or so ago, after they'd been held to two hits and no runs by Clayton Kershaw in Game 2 of the NLCS, and then held to two hits and no runs again, by Rich Hill, in Game 3 of that series.

This time, the Cubs were talking about another ace, Kluber. Who held them to four hits and no runs, while striking out nine, in six-plus innings.

"That," Cubs catcher David Ross said, "is what Cy Youngs do. That's what aces do."

Of course, what Kluber did to the Cubs in this game wasn't quite what Kershaw and Hill did to them in the last round, if only because he's right-handed and the two Dodgers aces are left-handed. But we're starting to see signs that this team can be shut down by great pitching this time of year -- when guys like Kluber and Miller show up on the mound with a lot greater frequency than they do from April through September.

During the season, this Cubs lineup finished second to Colorado in runs scored. But it has now been shut out more times in 11 games in this postseason (three) than it was shut out in the 102 games it played from June 1 on in the regular season (two).

The question is: What does that tell us about where this World Series is headed from here?

"This is not going to put all the pressure on us, just because we didn't win one ballgame," said the Cubs' DH du jour, Kyle Schwarber, who somehow found a way to jet in from the Arizona Fall League, become the first position player ever to get a hit in a World Series after getting zero hits in the season and then rise up to be a voice of reason afterward.

"We're a good baseball team," Schwarber promised. "We'll be fine."

But will they? They struck out 15 times Tuesday -- something they hadn't done in any nine-inning game in more than four months (since a June 13 meeting with Max Scherzer). They also set a franchise record for most whiffs in a postseason game.

So what was the common thread between this game and those two shutouts against the Dodgers? According to ESPN Stats & Information, it was the unusually high percentage of fastballs the Cubs took for strikes against the starters they faced in all three of those games.

When Kluber threw his fastball Tuesday, he had a 58 percent called-strike rate. It was 55 percent in that game against Hill and 54 percent in Kershaw's Game 2 start. Those are the three highest rates against them by any starting pitchers they faced all year.

And while the Cubs had some complaints about plate ump Larry Vanover's strike zone, those gripes mostly concerned the pitches on the corners that Jon Lester didn't get, not the pitches that Kluber did get. Their biggest issue was the number of Kluber's exploding two-seam fastballs they appeared to give up on, only to see them veer back into the strike zone.

Then, when Kluber went to his off-speed stuff, the Cubs didn't fare much better. They had more swings and misses against his slider and curve (eight) than balls in play (seven). So "the nicest thing that happened," Ross said, gratefully, "was getting Kluber out of there."

But if that was the good news, the bad news was it meant they had to spend the next two innings dealing with Miller, a man who had faced 41 hitters in this postseason before this game -- and struck out 21 of them.

Unlike the Red Sox and Blue Jays, the Cubs at least made Miller sweat, running four three-ball counts, drawing as many walks against him in two innings (two) as he'd issued in the entire postseason before this and forcing him to throw 46 pitches -- the most he'd thrown in relief in more than five years.

But they also learned all about what makes Miller maybe the most feared reliever in baseball -- when they loaded the bases with no outs in the seventh and got zero runs out of it. The last two outs came on sliders he threw past Addison Russell and Ross. And the movement on both of those pitches was so severe, they were unhittable even for hitters who were pretty sure what was coming.

"At 3-and-1," Ross said, "he threw me a strike slider that kind of backed up a little bit. So what I was seeing [on the next pitch] was, 'Was that slider going to start in the same place?' I'm trying to protect against the nasty one and the one that kind of backed up. So as I'm trying to look for that, the pitch I struck out on looked like it started from the same spot, but it ended up wrapping around my back leg and pretty much disappeared."

Then, an inning later, with two on and two outs, it was Schwarber who got swallowed up by another of Miller's most ferocious sliders, swinging over it for the inning's final out, then screaming at himself in frustration.

"That's his pitch, man," Schwarber said later. "It's a plus-plus pitch for a reason."

Kluber and Miller were so good, it was easy for the team they beat to fire out the obligatory "tip your cap" quotes about them and mean every word. But the Cubs will be seeing both of them again. So if they're going to roar back to win this World Series, they're going to have to do to those two guys what they did to Kershaw in the NLCS -- make a radical adjustment in the game plan the next time around.

"The common thread I see," Ross said, "is we have a young group that usually gets better the more they see guys and how they're going to pitch them. I'm holding out hope that that's what's going to help us moving forward. But I don't want to take anything away from Corey Kluber's performance. It was as dominant as it gets."

Well, if they enjoyed his dominance on this night, stay tuned, because there is every indication the Indians plan to run Kluber out there again in Games 4 and 7. And if they grab the lead again, it will be Miller and Allen to follow. It's a formula the Indians already have used to smother two great lineups. And now it's the Cubs' turn. Lucky them.

Asked if he was ready for more of the same fun in Games 4 and 7, Ross laughed and said, "We'll see. But right now, we're going to worry about whoever they've got on the mound tomorrow. I'd rather forget about Corey Kluber for a little while."

And after a Game 1 loss that history tells us normally means big trouble -- even for teams this good -- who the heck could blame him?