Cleveland Indians: Formula for Winning Game Six is Clear

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Oct 15, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Josh Tomlin (43) throws against the Toronto Blue Jays during the second inning of game two of the 2016 ALCS playoff baseball series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 15, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Josh Tomlin (43) throws against the Toronto Blue Jays during the second inning of game two of the 2016 ALCS playoff baseball series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /
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The World Series is headed back to Progressive Field. The Cleveland Indians are still just one win away from a championship, and the strategy for clinching is clear.

The Cleveland Indians failed to clinch their first World Series championship since 1948 on Sunday night in Chicago, falling 3-2 to the Cubs. The Fall Classic now returns to Cleveland, and the Indians will have two chances to get the job done. Fans maybe understandably nervous, but the path to a title is crystal clear.

Chicago possesses one of the best offenses in baseball, but as Cleveland has shown in this series, and throughout October against high-scoring teams Boston and Toronto, that its pitching staff has the silver bullet to slow down the big bats.

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That is of course the curveball, or the breaking ball in general, and the Tribe has utilized it to near-perfection in the postseason. Were it not for one tough inning in Game Five, the story would not be the Cubs momentum, but rather how poorly they executed at the plate against breaking pitches.

Indians pitchers have thrown breaking balls at a rate of about 34 percent in the World Series, which is 9 percent more than Chicago saw them during the regular season.

As we wrote prior to Game Three:

"The results of this change have meant pitches at the bottom of the strike zone and soft contact, both of which play well against Chicago. The Cubs ranked No. 11 in the National League during the regular season in the volume of curveballs seen, and No. 9 in Fangraphs’ weighted curveball runs, a metric used to measure how well hitters performed against the pitch.Chicago also had the lowest average exit velocity, the eighth-worst batting average, and the lowest contact rate against curveballs in all of MLB in 2016, as Mike Petriello points out for MLB.com."

And who will be on the mound in Game Six trying to take advantage of the Cubs’ breaking ball woes? That would be Josh Tomlin, who has thrown more breaking stuff in the playoffs than during the regular season by a large margin. In his previous start in Game Three, he threw about 25 percent curveballs, while also tossing in 35 percent cutters.

Including his three postseason starts, Tomlin is 4-1 with a 1.76 ERA since returning to the Indians rotation, and Cleveland is 6-1 in those 7 starts. He yielded just two hits and a walk in 4.2 innings against Chicago the first time around, and there has been little indication that the Cubs have made any adjustments to the way the Tribe has been pitching them.

Next: Tomlin's Approach Bodes Well Against Cubs

Anxiety is part and parcel of Cleveland sports fandom, so if fans of the Indians are a little uneasy with the World Series being extended, it’s to be expected. But the Tribe knows how to beat the Cubs, and will have the right man on the mound to do so in Game Six on Tuesday night at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. If Tomlin can execute as he has throughout October, Cleveland will have a solid chance to cap things off at home.

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