After more than 200 spring training, regular season and postseason games apiece, it comes down to one. History proves that Game 7 of the World Series can be a time for both stars and unknowns to emerge as baseball heroes. Each participant for the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians are feeling the magnitude of the moment. But in this pressure-packed drama, these five will have the spotlight squarely on them.
5. Andrew Miller/Aroldis Chapman
For most of Game 6, it didn’t appear that we’d see the opposing relief aces. An early 7-0 Chicago lead eliminated much of the drama, rendering their presence unimportant.
However, holding a five-run advantage with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Joe Maddon shockingly turned to Chapman after his heavy workload two nights prior. It took 62 pitches for Aroldis over his last two appearances, meaning he will be diminished (although still available) come tonight. Maddon probably is set to rely mostly on Jon Lester and John Lackey.
While Chapman has been dominant at times during the playoffs, Miller is riding a postseason streak in which he’s been just about unhittable—save for allowing a home run at Wrigley Field on Saturday. And the best news of all? He’s very fresh—with three days of rest.
4. Javier Baez
There are free swingers…then there’s Baez. He’d probably take a hack at a paper cup if it was flung towards home plate.
After hitting .375 during the Division Series and .318 in the NLCS, Baez had three hits and nine strikeouts through the first five games against Cleveland. Joe Maddon conversed with his young infielder prior to Tuesday’s contest, with plate discipline being the main area of discussion. Baez looked slightly better in his three turns at bat in Game 6 as he went 1-for-4 with a pair of Ks.
But whatever limitations Baez has on offense, his presence on defense (the double play he salvaged in the eighth inning last night being one example) still makes him a valuable asset.
3. Kyle Hendricks
While everyone else’s heart rate is going to be sky-high, Hendricks may not even reach human level.
The 26-year-old right-hander (and the NL leader in ERA during the regular season) has proven he can handle moments like this. Take the NLCS clincher as reference—a performance in which he held the Los Angeles Dodgers without a hit for the better part of seven innings.
Over 4.1 frames in Game 3 of the Fall Classic, he held the Tribe scoreless while striking out six.
A strong outing that resulted in a Cubs win would culminate a comeback both for his team and personally, as three years ago Hendricks a minor leaguer working towards an economics degree at Dartmouth.
2. Kris Bryant
There may be no better sign for the Cubs than seeing the eventual NL MVP heating up at the right time.
Bryant got Chicago going in Game 5 with a solo homer in the fourth. He was the ignitor again in Game 6 by way of a two-out, first inning blast. Bryant would later single in the fifth, seventh and ninth. When the 9-3 victory was all said and done, Bryant was 4-for-5 with two runs scored.
It doesn’t hurt that his protection in the lineup—namely Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell—are locked in as well. Should things go in his team’s favor, he could be looking at another kind of MVP.
1. Corey Kluber
Of all the questions left to be answered in this winner-take-all, the one that carries the most weight is this: can Kluber shut down the Cubs lineup a third time?
He certainly did so in the opener, fanning eight of the first 11 batters he faced en route to six shutout innings
Game 4 wasn’t as overpowering, yet it was just as effective. He shook off an early Cubs run, holding them scoreless the rest of his night while his teammates built up a 7-1 advantage.
Should Kluber again limit the potent Chicago offense once more, his would be a feat for the ages—rivaling only the greatest of World Series performances.