Cubs

What can Cubs expect from Indians ace Corey Kluber on short rest in Game 4?

What can Cubs expect from Indians ace Corey Kluber on short rest in Game 4?

Before Game 2 of the World Series, the only game the Cleveland Indians lost in the 2016 playoffs was Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, which ace Corey Kluber started on three days rest. 

Kluber wasn’t altogether ineffective in that 5-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, allowing two runs on our hits with two walks, seven strikeouts and one home run in five innings (those are the only two runs he's allowed in the playoffs). He only threw 89 pitches in that game; three days before, he fired 100 in Game 1 of the ALCS. But beyond the results, how different was Kluber as a pitcher on three days rest?

“Last time was my first time doing it, so I didn't know what to expect how I was going to feel,” Kluber said Friday. “Now that I do know that I felt fine, it's just a matter of using those three days to recover. I'll be fine tomorrow and then just go out there and pitch.”

Velocity-wise, Kluber didn’t experience a drop-off on three days rest as compared to the six days he had off before the World Series: He actually threw his two-seam sinker and four-seism fastball slightly harder against the Blue Jays than he did against the Cubs, according to TexasLeaguers.com. The spin rate on his two-seam sinker was actually higher on three days rest than it was in his first World Series start, too (according to MLB.com, “most experts have agreed that fastballs and breaking balls are tougher to hit when they possess higher Spin Rates.”).

So the Cubs can certainly expect the same stuff they saw from Kluber in Game 1. But the biggest difference between short rest Kluber and regular/extended rest Kluber was his effectiveness throwing that sinker for strikes.

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Against the Cubs, Kluber threw 24 of his 30 sinkers for strikes, and the Cubs only put five of those in play. It was a masterful showing of how to pitch a patient lineup that hadn’t seen him in 2016, with the movement on that pitch and the threat of him mixing in an effective curveball and slider breezily working through the Cubs’ lineup over six innings. 

But against Toronto, Kluber frequently missed low with his sinker (he had five called below the strike zone for balls) and gave up a home run on one to right-hander Josh Donaldson. Only nine of the 33 sinkers he threw were called strikes, compared to 14 sinkers called for strikes against the Cubs. 

Both Kluber and the Cubs will make adjustments heading into Game 4, with Kluber having a better idea of how to prepare on three days’ rest and the Cubs lineup having a better idea of the action on Kluber’s pitches. But no matter how many days off he’s had, Kluber is one of the very best pitchers in baseball, and the Cubs’ best shot at getting to him Saturday night looks to be if he’s not as pinpoint with his sinker. 

“The guys got to see him, so there won't be as much of a surprise the next time he pitches,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “You have to — i.e. (Clayton) Kershaw, the first game he pitched here, extremely sharp with everything. The next game we saw him not as sharp. So you just don't know. It's difficult for pitchers to replicate time after time, especially against the same team, especially with shorter rest to be as sharp. But he may be. Not that it's an advantage, only in the sense that we have seen him relatively just a couple days ago.

“So hopefully that works to our advantage. But you've got to wait until the game's actually played to find out how sharp he is.”

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

When Ben Zobrist rejoined the Cubs active roster on Sept. 1, it was fair to wonder how much he could provide offensively. After all, he spent the previous four months on the restricted list while tending to a family matter, last playing a big-league game on May 6.

Zobrist did no baseball activities from May to mid-July, only working out to stay in shape. Although he eventually ramped things up, he played in just 12 minor league rehab games in August before returning to the Cubs, a small number compared to the length of his absence.

Even Zobrist admitted upon his big-league return that his timing at the plate wasn’t where he wanted it to be. And yet, what he did in September was nothing short of impressive. In 21 games, he posted a .284/.377/.388 slash line, performing at a level many couldn’t have expected, considering the circumstances.

Zobrist's impact on the Cubs' lineup goes beyond what you see in the box score, however. Not only is he a switch hitter with some pop, but he has a keen eye for the strike zone and frequently puts together professional at-bats.

On a Cubs team that tends to expand the zone, Zobrist’s presence mattered. In his second game back, for example, he went 3-for-3 with two walks, helping the Cubs beat the Brewers 10-5. After the game, Brewers starter Chase Anderson pointed out how different the Cubs' lineup looks with Zobrist in it.

"They play the matchups really well and Zobrist makes that team so much better," Anderson said on Sept. 5. "Just bringing his presence to the top of the lineup, it changes their dynamic a little bit."

Where Zobrist stands entering 2020, though, is currently unclear.

Zobrist is set to hit free agency after the World Series and will turn 39 next May. Therefore, it’s possible that he’s played his last game in the big leagues, as he has little, if anything, left to prove at this stage in his career.

Ahead of the Cubs’ season finale on Sept. 29, Zobrist told reporters in St. Louis that he hasn’t thought about how much time he’ll take before deciding what’s next for him. His family situation will obviously play a big role in his decision, but if September showed anything, it's that he still has something left in the tank.

“I’m 38 but I got that feeling all over again,” Zobrist said following the Cubs’ season finale, a 9-0 loss to the Cardinals in which he pitched a scoreless inning. “Just really fun, you know? It’s a fun game. Sometimes you don’t come out on the winning end, but you still gotta have fun with it and enjoy it. I enjoyed it today."

The Cubs roster is expected to undergo changes this offseason, with center field, second base and the leadoff spot being just a few areas the team will look to address. The latter two spots became revolving doors during Zobrist’s absence, as the Cubs struggled to replace what he brought offensively.

Zobrist is past the point in his career of being an everyday player. However, he still could be a useful asset for the Cubs in a supporting role, bringing his veteran approach to the lineup when he plays while still offering an experienced voice in the clubhouse.

“I take a lot of joy in that role, just being a supporting guy and being a part of winning clubs and part of winning atmospheres and cultures,” Zobrist said on Sept. 29. “The Chicago Cubs have been that since I’ve been around. This year we didn’t make the playoffs — we still have a winning record — (but) the kind of relationships that are built here and the culture that’s been built here is definitely a winning one.”

After the Cubs announced that they wouldn’t retain Joe Maddon for 2020, Zobrist acknowledged that more changes were likely coming in the offseason. Only time will tell what that means for the veteran utilityman — should he continue playing.

Whether he retires or joins a different team for 2020, though, Zobrist will look back on his four seasons with the Cubs fondly.

“(They’re) just the most passionate fans I’ve ever met,” he said of Cubs fans. “They’re very loyal, very passionate and it’s been such a pleasure to be a part of that team that beat the curse back in ’16, so I feel that still, when I see Cubs fans, there’s a lot of them that hug me and thank me for being a part of that.

“I’ll always look back at [my] time here — I don’t know what’s going to happen in the offseason — but look back at these four years and [be] very grateful to be able to be part of a group like this and be able to do what we did while I was here.”

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Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

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USA Today

Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Tony Andracki, Kelly Crull, Scott Changnon and Jeff Nelson give us their memories of Joe Maddon's time with the Cubs and discuss David Ross and Joe Espada's candidacy to be the next manager.

01:30 Kelly's memories of Joe from the perspective of a reporter

06:00 Going back to Hazleton with Joe

07:45 Joe's legacy as manager of the Cubs

16:00 How Joe impacted Javy Baez' career

18:00 David Ross and Joe Espada may be the leaders to replace Joe Maddon.

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

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Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.