After 108 years of waiting, Chicago Cubs fans will witness an epic Game 7 of the World Series tonight, even though their guys will be battling for the championship at Progressive Field in Cleveland. For the Cleveland Indians, it’s been 78 years since their last title, so their fans have done perhaps enough waiting for a lifetime as well. 

In Game 6, Chicago routed Cleveland on its home field, winning 9-2 powered by three home runs from Kris Bryant in the first, Addison Russell in the third and finally Anthony Rizzo in the ninth. The Indians once held a commanding 3-1 series lead over the Cubs, but that seems like ancient history ahead of tonight’s decisive Game 7. 

Pitching has been a major storyline all series, from the Cubs stellar starters to the Indians diabolical bullpen. Tonight, all eyes will be on the starters, 2014 Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber for Cleveland and Kyle Hendricks, a Cy Young candidate this season, for Chicago. 

Before the series, Indians manager Terry Francona told Kluber that he was counting on his ace to take the mound in Games 1, 4 and 7 should they be necessary, and how much Francona has needed to rely on Kluber‘s arm cannot be overstated. Kluber will have to deliver one more time if Cleveland hopes to win tonight in front of its fans. 

In Game 1, Kluber was dominant—he threw six scoreless innings, giving up only four hits while walking no batters and striking out nine. In that game, the Indians offense was dominant as well, scoring six runs in a game where it only really needed one, and Cleveland would win 6-0. 

Then, in Saturday’s Game 4, Kluber posted a similar line. He went six innings again, this time allowing one run on five hits. He fanned six Cubs and walked one. Again, the Indians lineup threw crooked numbers up on the scoreboard to secure the 7-2 victory and push Chicago to the brink of elimination. 

Perhaps most notably in terms of tonight’s game, though, is that Kluber—who will be pitching on just three days rest for the second consecutive start—threw fewer than 90 pitches in both of his starts in the World Series. He threw 88 pitches (59 strikes) in Game 1 and then only 81 (58 strikes) in Game 4. Although tonight will be Kluber‘s third start in just more than a week, the fact that he hasn’t been overworked should be a source of confidence for Francona and the Cleveland fans. 

Kluber has been nothing short of spectacular all postseason long. In his five starts in the playoffs, he’s thrown 30.1 innings and pitched to a 0.89 ERA. Also, per, he’s kept his WHIP below one at 0.99. Although Kluber has gone just six innings in both of his World Series starts, he doesn’t necessarily need to do more than that to secure a championship for his squad. 

The ace of the Indians bullpen, Andrew Miller, threw exactly zero pitches in Games 5 and 6, so he will be ready to slot into any jam or inning that Francona needs him to and perhaps go up to three innings. That’s a huge buffer for Kluber to have, knowing that he doesn’t have to go the distance to give his team the best chance to win.

So far in the World Series, Cubs hitters are hitting just .205 off of Kluber, a number they will need to elevate tonight if they hope to break the multitude of curses that may or may not be plaguing their team and their city. 

Kluber‘s adversary in Game 7 will be the wiry Hendricks, who turned in a startlingly great regular season for Chicago. Hendricks led Major League Baseball with a 2.13 ERA in the regular season, which was 0.31 runs per game lower than the next closest pitcher in that category, his teammate Jon Lester

Emotions in the playoffs are high—and that’s an understatement. There is perhaps no greater test for a pitcher than to start Game 7 of a World Series when the last seven months of baseball rest on his shoulders. However, Hendricks might just be perfect for the opportunity. 

During a report from Cleveland on ESPN this morning, Pedro Gomez described Hendricks’ demeanor when he pitches. Gomez said that after striking out the side, for example, a time when his teammates would expect him to stomp into the dugout all pumped up, Hendricks strolls in with his head down, seemingly unimpressed with himself. 

While it’s no sin to use the adrenaline that comes with starting a Game 7, Hendricks’ collectedness might come in handy as he battles the Indians in what is sure to be a hostile Cleveland crowd. 

Hendricks has made four starts in the postseason, the most recent coming in Game 3 against the Indians, the first game of the series at Wrigley Field. In that contest, Hendricks lasted only 4.1 innings despite not giving up a run. Manager Joe Maddon‘s quick hook with Hendricks had largely to do with the closeness of the game, in which the Cubs would fall 1-0. 

His best start of the postseason, however, came a round earlier in Game 6 of the NLCS. Hendricks threw 7.1 scoreless innings while opposing Los Angeles Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw. Hendricks surrendered only two hits in that game and struck out six, propelling the Cubs to the World Series. Tonight will not be Hendricks’ first potentially series-clinching start of the postseason. 

There is something that could give Cubs fans pause with Hendricks, however. During the regular season, Hendricks’ numbers varied quite a bit at home versus when he pitched on the road, as he will do tonight. At Wrigley Field, Hendricks’ ERA was a blistering 1.32. When he traveled away from the Friendly Confines, though, it ballooned to 2.95.

Now, an ERA of under three runs per game is nothing to scoff at, especially when you consider that no pitcher in the American League had an ERA less than three. Still, it does suggest that Hendricks may not be as effective when pitching on the road, which could significantly impact tonight’s outcome. The sample sizes are nearly the same, but Hendricks gave up 17 more runs on the road than he did at home. 

Hendricks did pitch his 4.1 scoreless innings in Game 3 at Progressive Field, so there’s no evidence that he can’t be just as dominant tonight, although hopefully for a longer stretch if you’re Maddon

These two pitchers enter the most important game of their lives with impressive resumes, and they both possess the ability to pitch deep into this game and potentially shut out the dangerous offenses they’re tasked with oppressing. 

From the standpoint of the pitching matchup, I’d have to give the edge to Kluber and the Indians, based on his body of work this postseason and in the World Series. Having said that, I’m taking the Cubs to win Game 7, mostly citing momentum, history and their blazing bats after Game 6. 

This one could very well be decided late into the night, and that will be because both teams’ starters refused to be outdone.

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