Game One: Corey Kluber vs. Jon Lester
Chicago will have Jon Lester taking the ball. In Game One For Cleveland, there was no mystery. Kluber is the undisputed ace of the staff, and he has performed incredibly in his first career postseason.
Kluber is 2-1 in October, having thrown 18.1 innings in three starts. The 30-year old right-hander has yielded just two runs on 13 hits in that span, striking out 20 and walking seven while having a hand in two shutouts, and posting a 0.98 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and .197 batting average against.
The last time out, Kluber pitched on three days’ rest against Toronto, and though he put the Indians in a position to win, suffered the club’s only loss of this postseason to this point.
As he showed in his three playoff starts, Kluber will be around the plate, throwing his sinker predominantly, while mixing in one of the premier sliders in the game and a plus cutter. He has essentially been the same pitcher all season regardless whether he’s at home or on the road, or facing a left-handed or right-handed batter.
That consistency will be put to the test against a Cubs squad that has a nice balance of lefties and righties in its lineup and has scored nearly five runs per game in the postseason.
Lester has similarly been on top of his game in three playoff starts, all of them wins for Chicago. In 21 innings of work, he has given up two runs on 14 hits, striking out 14 and walking just two, and was named Co-MVP of the NLCS. His 0.86 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, and .189 opposition batting average show a veteran with immense postseason experience who is locked in.
And he does so throwing nearly all fastballs of one variety or another. Thus far in October, Lester has thrown his four-seamer, sinker, and cutter to the tune of nearly 90 percent of his mix, which has resulted in just soft or medium contact by hitters nearly 75 percent of the time.
The one flaw that Lester has is his well-documented case of the yips in throwing to bases, and it’s one that Cleveland should look to exploit. He simply does not make pickoff attempts, and as was evident in the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, base runners can take big leads from first base.
Where the Dodgers failed, though, was in taking advantage of those head starts. They stole two bases in the game but conceivably should have had many more. The Indians, it is well-known, led the American League with 134 steals during the regular season and in FanGraphs’ baserunning metric which measures overall efficiency.
Taking better advantage of Lester’s pickoff issue than LA, provided of course that the Tribe can get on base first, is the seemingly small detail that can change the outcome of a game.