Deep Dive: 3 big hits in Game 7
As the Cubs edged the Indians in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, they received three big hits that vaulted them to a championship.
Dexter Fowler’s Home Run
After crawling back from a 3-1 series deficit, the Cubs had a chance. From a starting pitching standpoint, the odds were stacked against them. Corey Kluber toed the rubber for the Indians. He was coming off a sub-1.00 ERA after five starts in the postseason. But on Nov. 2, he had over 240 innings on his arm. Indians manager Terry Francona also turned to Kluber for the second time in the World Series on less than the standard five days rest.
Dexter Fowler tagged Kluber for the first run of the game in the 1st inning. Kluber’s approach to Fowler in their 6 World Series matchups was consistent: He pounded his sinker and four-seamer inside, customary for him against left-handed hitters. Later in counts and in subsequent at-bats, he turned to his slider and curveball, but Fowler’s struggles with sinkers from right-handed arms pushed Kluber to rely on the pitch more than he normally would. Kluber threw Fowler sinkers 66 percent of the time in their 6 at-bats before Game 7, almost double his approach to left-handed hitters during the regular season.
Kluber fell behind Fowler 2-1 after failing to spot a sinker and four-seamer to try and stay ahead. For his 2-1 pitch, he again turned to a sinker, but left the pitch middle-middle, a recipe for disaster. During the 2016 regular season, left-handed hitters batted over .330 and slugged .604 against any fastball middle-middle from a right-hander. Fowler took Kluber’s misplaced sinker deep over the center field wall, beyond a leaping Rajai Davis. The Cubs led 1-0.
David Ross’ home run
In the 6th inning with the Cubs leading 5-3, David Ross dug in against Andrew Miller. Like Kluber, Miller dominated his opponents entering Game 7. His ERA sat at 0.53 over 17 postseason innings after winning 10 games out of the bullpen during the regular season with a 1.45 ERA. Miller’s 2016 regular season still stands as the peak of his career.
There is one oddity within Miller’s game. For the three-year stretch between 2015 and 2017, left-handed hitters actually fared better against Miller, despite the assumption that his side-arm release point and sweeping slider would devastate left-handed hitters and give right-handed hitters an advantage. What Ross had to counter Miller was experience actually seeing all his pitches when he caught Miller with the Boston Red Sox. He knew about the sweeping slider and high-velocity fastball.
As Lester’s personal catcher, Ross had a tip from Maddon he would enter the game at some point to catch his counterpart. When that moment came in the bottom of the 5th with two outs, Ross slotted in to face Miller during the top half of the next inning in what would be the last game of his career. As much as breaking down Miller’s sequencing to Ross would help understand how he hit a home run, it’s better to hear it from the man himself.
“And he shook. And I did my homework. His pitch is the slider, but he shakes a lot [to] fastball,” Ross told the Cubs production team in this breakdown. “When he shook, I was like, sell out to [the] heater.”
When Miller presumably shook off a 1-2 slider for a fastball, Ross choked up and barreled the pitch to center field. Ross’s home run gave the Cubs a 6-3 lead.
Ben Zobrist’s RBI Double
Then came the 10th inning after a 17-minute rain delay. The score was tied 6-6 with Bryan Shaw on the bump. His postseason was productive, but not as dominant as Kluber’s or Miller’s. Shaw held a 2.89 ERA through just 9.1 innings with a tendency to retire right-handed hitters more frequently than left-handed ones thanks to his hard cutter.
But the switch-hitting Zobrist has always been stronger in his career from the right side of the plate, even though 70 percent of his plate appearances have come from the left side. This information pushed Francona and Shaw to intentionally walk Anthony Rizzo with Kyle Schwarber already on first in favor of facing Zobrist.
Shaw started Zobrist with a cutter outside of the zone and followed up with two well-placed cutters to get ahead 1-2. After following off a cutter the other way, Zobrist dug in for another 1-2 cutter. Shaw reared back and spotted the pitch on the black, but Zobrist dropped his bat head into the zone and shot the ball the other way past the shifted third baseman Jose Ramirez.
With runners on first and second, the Indians probably couldn’t shift Zobrist exactly how they wanted to. But pitch location is another key factor. Zobrist tends to pull most two-strike pitches as a left-handed hitter. When pitches are on the outer third of the plate, especially with two strikes, Zobrist tends to hit those pitches the other way. And that’s exactly where the intended location of Shaw’s cutter was — the outer third. This pitch-to-pitch shifting is something defenses have become more accepting of in recent years.
When it mattered most, the Indians may have left too much of the left side of the infield open in favor of holding the runner at second base. Zobrist took advantage and put the Cubs ahead 7-6.
One inning later, the Cubs were once again World Series Champions.