Cubs

Cubs can’t solve Corey Kluber as Indians’ ace possibly looms in Games 4 and 7 of World Series

Cubs can’t solve Corey Kluber as Indians’ ace possibly looms in Games 4 and 7 of World Series

CLEVELAND — Corey Kluber quickly took the shine off a moment 71 years in the making when he struck out Dexter Fowler looking to begin Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night at Progressive Field. He then struck out Kris Bryant, again on a called third strike, and induced the first of three uncharacteristic Anthony Rizzo pop-outs to sternly put the Cubs away in the first inning.

Kluber, the 2014 American League Cy Young winner and a 2016 All-Star, turned in a master-class outing against a Cubs lineup that’s oscillated between potent and putrid in the playoffs. The 30-year-old right-hander scattered four hits with no walks and a Cleveland Indians World Series record nine strikeouts over six shutout innings to set the stage for an emphatic 6-0 win.

“Just pretty much as dominant as one could be right there,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “Hitting his spots, really didn’t make many mistakes or give us much to work with. But that’s what good pitchers do.”

Six of Kluber’s nine strikeouts were looking, and the Cubs watched 22 pitches be called for strikes. Kluber’s sinker was his most effective pitch, with Cubs hitters struggling to track its movement: According to BrooksBaseball.net, of the 30 sinkers he threw, 24 were for strikes but the Cubs only swung at 10 of them. Five of those 30 sinkers were put in play, and just one went for a hit — Kyle Schwarber’s near-home run in the fourth inning.

Kluber’s curveball became a nasty out-pitch as the game went on — the five whiffs he generated on it were the most of any pitch — and shortstop Addison Russell said his ability to vary the speeds on both his curveball and slider kept the Cubs’ lineup even more off-balance.

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

“Whenever he changes speeds off his slider and curveball and kind of deceives the (velocity) a little bit, deceives the movement on his breaking ball, it’s pretty tough to hit,” Russell said.

The Cubs will have to solve Kluber at least one more time in this series, with manager Terry Francona “strongly” considering starting him in Games 4 and 7, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney.

While both of those starts would come on three days rest, manager Terry Francona didn’t hesitate to start Kluber in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series with the Indians seeking a sweep. The Toronto Blue Jays got to him that day, at least by his standards — two runs on four hits with two walks, seven strikeouts and one home run in five innings — but he hasn’t allowed a run in any of his three postseason starts with at least four days rest.

Cubs hitters felt confident in their ability to bounce back from Tuesday’s loss, and Russell pointed to the Cubs having more success the second time they face a pitcher. At least in the National League Championship Series, that was true for Clayton Kershaw, who threw a shutout in Game 2 but allowed five runs in Game 6.

But the Cubs will have to find a way to cobble together some offense against Kluber, otherwise the Indians’ ace could be even more of an X-Factor in the World Series than lights-out reliever Andrew Miller.

“He’s really mastered the art of the sinker/slider on the outer half to righties and inner half to lefties,” catcher David Ross said. “He’s got a cutter in there too to keep you honest, and that ball was coming back there pretty good tonight. Really good movement on all his pitches. That’s why he’s a former Cy Young winner and their ace, he’s really, really good.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

Spring training baseball games are up around the bend, but before the boys of summer get into organized action, two of the team’s new coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey sit down with Kelly Crull.

Plus, Vinnie Duber joins Kelly to discuss these baseball conversations including the memorable first words of Kyle Schwarber to Chili Davis, “I don’t suck!"

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”