If the Chicago Cubs want to be a team of destiny, they better come up with a miracle.

If they don’t, a season in which they won 103 games on their way to their first World Series since 1945 could be over as soon as Sunday. The Cleveland Indians lead the series three games to one.

If the advantage feels even bigger than that, it may be because the latest entry in this Fall Classic was a thumping that only Cleveland fans had an easy time watching.

After winning a 1-0 squeaker in Game 4 on Friday, the Indians took Game 5 on Saturday by a 7-2 final. The Cubs could once again do nothing against Corey Kluber, who regressed to only six one-run innings from his six shutout innings in Game 1. John Lackey and a host of Chicago relievers served up 10 hits. Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis sent two of those into the Wrigley Field bleachers.

And so, it’s down to this for the Cubs: One more loss, and their trip to the World Series will have proved powerless to stop their championship drought from turning 109 years old.

Oh, there are silver linings, of course.

There are the pitching matchups, for one. Jon Lester will get the ball against Trevor Bauer, who will be on three days’ rest, in Game 5. That’s a mismatch if there ever was one.

“To have a guy that’s [a] been-there, done-that kind of a guy, and been very successful, been a World Series champion, he knows what the feeling is like, he knows what it takes,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said, via Jamal Collier of MLB.com. “It’s definitely comforting to the rest of the group for [Sunday].”

If there’s a Game 6, there will be another mismatch in Jake Arrieta against Josh Tomlin on short rest. If there’s a Game 7, major league ERA leader Kyle Hendricks will go against Kluber, who will be making his second straight start on short rest.

On the other side of the ball, Chicago’s vaunted offense showed more life in Game 4 than the box score suggested.

Dexter Fowler finally got the Cubs’ first home run of the series with his solo dinger off the previously untouchable Andrew Miller, but that could have been the team’s third home run of the night under better conditions. Ben Zobrist and Anthony Rizzo crushed balls that got knocked down by the wind.

And if there is indeed a Game 6, the Cubs know Kyle Schwarber will return to the lineup, as the designated hitter will be re-introduced to the series back at Progressive Field. He was Chicago’s best hitter in the first two games.

There are, however, two things standing in the way of the miracle the Cubs need: history and a team that is playing better baseball.

The easy reference to make in support of Chicago is to the last time a team from Cleveland was involved in a championship series with a 3-1 deficit. Just check Twitter. I’ll wait.

Easy jokes aside, though, 3-1 deficits are no laughing matter in the World Series. There have been 46 teams that have fallen behind 3-1. Only six of them have come back to win.

As Mike Puma of the New York Post noted, the last of those comebacks was three decades ago:

For the Cubs to break the streak, they need to figure out an Indians team that already has them figured out.

It’s not just the wind that’s keeping Chicago from living up to its reputation as one of baseball’s best power-hitting teams. Cleveland pitchers know that hitters have a hard time smacking breaking balls over the fence. Per Baseball Savant, they’ve gone from throwing 23.9 percent breaking balls in the regular season to 38 percent in the postseason. Cubs hitters have had no answer for that.

In what seems to be an offshoot of its struggles to hit the ball over the fence, Chicago has also lost its trademark discipline. Baseball Savant’s figures had it swinging outside the zone only 18.9 percent of the time in the regular season. That number is up to 22.4 percent in the World Series.

Cue Maddon saying this in his postgame press conference Saturday, via MLB.com: “We just need that offensive epiphany somehow to get us pushing in the right direction.”

As Cubs hitters struggle to be themselves, Indians hitters have largely been doing just fine.

They have a .248 team average to Chicago’s .204 and are out-homering the Cubs four to one. They’re taking more disciplined at-bats and benefiting from that with better contact, holding the average exit velocity advantage at 91.1 mph to 86.8 mph.

It helps that manager Terry Francona is pushing all the right buttons. Pinch-hitting Coco Crisp in Game 3 resulted in a game-winning RBI single. Santana rewarded Francona for starting him over Mike Napoli in Game 4 by hitting a game-tying home run.

Meanwhile, Francona’s button-pushing is another thing that’s made life difficult for Cubs hitters.

Whereas Maddon has leaned on relievers not named Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon or Aroldis Chapman, Francona has continued to ride Miller and Cody Allen as much as he can. When he hasn’t used them, he’s pushed the right buttons anyway. Take out Fowler’s dinger off Miller, and Zach McAllister is the only Cleveland reliever to allow an earned run in this series.

“I think our guys have done terrific,” Francona said after Game 4, via MLB.com. “But I think the people that are surprised don’t know our pitchers very well.”

All this is the long way of telling a shorter story. What the Indians are doing to the Cubs is basically the same thing they did to the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays en route to the World Series. That led to seven wins in eight games. Lo and behold, more of the same has them one win from snapping a World Series drought that’s only 40 years younger than Chicago’s.

According to FiveThirtyEight, the odds the Cubs will reverse Cleveland’s stranglehold over this postseason stand at just 15 percent. That number is one of two things.

One: The start of a storybook comeback 108 years in the making—one that will be defined by Chicago taking advantage of favorable pitching matchups and finally finding its offense.

Or two: just another step down toward zero.

Anticlimactic? Maybe. But if it’s a team of destiny you want to see, you’re better off looking at the one from Cleveland.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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