As World Series shifts to Cleveland, game theory undergoes designated change between league rules

Progressive Field on Monday, Oct. 31, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

CHICAGO - As this city recovers from a weekend of World Series games, and the ivy on the outfield walls turns redder still, we know we won't see baseball at Wrigley Field until spring. When it returns, the Chicago Cubs will either be feted with a ring ceremony that would rattle the bones of the building once again, or be asked what needs to go differently to end what would then be a 109-year championship drought.

With the series back in Cleveland for Tuesday's Game 6 and, if necessary, an epic and decisive seventh game Wednesday, there is also an array of scenes that played out at Wrigley that won't take place at Progressive Field.

Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber won't walk to the on-deck circle but never get a chance to hit, as he did in Game 5. Cleveland relief ace Andrew Miller almost certainly won't face just four batters in an outing, as he did in Game 4. Chicago fire-baller Aroldis Chapman will not walk to the plate with a bat in his hand. And Cleveland's Carlos Santana will not have to play left field, when he can get just as many at-bats as a designated hitter.

"When you get used to the American League, it is a little different," Indians Manager Terry Francona said.

Because baseball has two sets of rules, the World Series has two sets of rules. That subtle difference - the DH is used in the American League park, while pitchers hit in the National League park - has affected the central story lines of this World Series in ways that might be unprecedented.

The use of all four of the aforementioned players was altered in Chicago in each of the three games played under NL rules, and they weren't alone. With the championship set to be decided in Cleveland - bringing one franchise or the other its first title in generations - each of those characters will be unleashed, able to impact the game in ways that enhance both their skills and their roles.

"In the American League, when you want to take your pitcher out, you take your pitcher out," Francona said.

Start with that part, then. The left-handed Miller has been perhaps the most important force this entire month because Francona consistently has used him at the most crucial part of any game the Indians lead, whether that part comes in the sixth inning or the eighth or whenever. Miller also has averaged 26 pitches and more than five outs per appearance - throwing as many as 46 pitches and getting as many as eight outs - meaning Francona can extend him over parts of two or even three innings if need be.

But in what was still a scoreless Game 3 on Friday night, Miller recorded the last out of the fifth with a runner at second, then struck out the side in the sixth. He had thrown just 17 pitches. Yet his spot in the batting order came up in the top of the seventh.

"If he wouldn't have come up to hit, maybe we would have sent him back out," Francona said.

The alternative was the way Cubs Manager Joe Maddon handled his own situation Sunday night in Game 5. With the Cubs nursing a one-run lead in the seventh, Maddon inserted Chapman, his closer, earlier than he had been used in more than four years. It wasn't just to get the key outs. It was to get all the remaining outs. So even with what might have been an important insurance run on second base - and then third, after Jason Heyward's steal - Chapman hit.

"That was our best opportunity," Maddon said.

The Cubs' best opportunity now will include Chapman never again picking up a bat, and Schwarber hitting as much as possible. The 23-year-old catcher-left fielder has not been medically cleared to play defense following his recovery from surgery to repair torn ligaments in his left knee. His participation in this series, at any level, was unexpected. So has been his impact on it.

When the series began last week in Cleveland, Schwarber served as the Cubs' DH. Though he struck out twice in Game 1, one swing - a scorched double off the wall against Corey Kluber, Cleveland's best pitcher - made the Cubs understand how important he could be to the lineup. He ended up adding a pair of run-scoring singles in the Cubs' Game 2 victory, and added two walks in those two games. His at-bats were high-quality.

And yet in Chicago, Maddon used him to pinch-hit in Game 3 - and then not again. Chris Coghlan and Miguel Montero, both left-handed hitters like Schwarber, received pinch-hit appearances in Games 4 and 5, respectively. Schwarber did not.

That won't be an issue in Cleveland. Expect Schwarber to be back hitting fifth, immediately providing another difficult hitter after Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and ben Zobrist.

"The lineup, again, is always about protection," Maddon said. ". . . Going into an American League venue now, and being able to utilize Schwarber, all of a sudden those games get a little bit longer and a little bit thicker. That's just the nature of the American League."

The nature of the American League is also that Santana, a regular-season force for the Indians with 34 home runs, won't be put in a position with which neither he nor Francona is comfortable. And the starting pitchers - Jake Arrieta for the Cubs against Josh Tomlin for the Indians on Tuesday, Kyle Hendricks for the Cubs against Kluber for the Indians if Wednesday's game is needed - will just pitch.

There might be, in that little bit of information, an advantage for Chicago. Cleveland is in control, because it has the 3-2 series lead. But Maddon mentioned late Sunday night a key, almost off-handedly.

"We go over there with two rested starting pitchers," he said.

Indeed, even though the Cubs have advanced one more round than they did a year ago, Arrieta, the 2015 Cy Young winner, has thrown nearly 35 fewer innings this season (248 2/3 in 2015, 214 this year). He has not topped 100 pitches in any of his three postseason starts this fall. Tomlin, meantime, is under a pair of burdens. Not only is he already at a career-high 189 1/3 innings, but he's pitching on three days' rest.

Expect the game Tuesday - and, if necessary, Wednesday - to be decided by exactly the players Maddon and Francona want to use, when they want to use them. In the balance? Just a world championship for the Indians or the Cubs, either of which borders on unimaginable.


Author Information:

Barry Svrluga is the national baseball writer for The Washington Post.

(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Barry Svrluga



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