If there’s a single image that sums up the the first five games of the 2016 World Series, it’s one of the Cubs’ many supposedly mighty hitters feebly swinging at a breaking ball in the dirt. At this point, I think Javier Báez would swing at a ball that was rolled to the plate.
Báez is hitting a tidy .143/.143/.143 with nine strikeouts through the first five games, and he’s had some of the ugliest swings of the series. It’s not exactly fair to single him out, though, because nobody else is doing much hitting, either. The Cubs scored nearly five runs per game in the regular season, but they’ve been shut out twice this series and have scored 10 runs in 45 innings.
The Cubs are supposed to have one of the best offenses in baseball, but the Indians have short-circuited them by following a relatively simple game plan: just keep throwing breaking balls.
According to Baseball Savant, the Cubs have just 10 hits against sliders and curveballs in this series, and eight of those hits were singles. Aside from that, the Cubs are having trouble even putting Cleveland’s breaking stuff in play. Forty-one percent of the pitches Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have seen have been sliders or curveballs; they’ve scratched a single and five fly outs from those pitches. This is what Bryant, who is hitting .118 with seven strikeouts in the series, has been doing with the sliders and curve balls he’s seen so far:
It’s mostly the same story for Rizzo:
Okay, are you ready to see something genuinely disturbing? Here’s how Baez has fared against the breaking balls Cleveland has been feeding him:
Baez would probably be better off if he started going to the plate with a wedge.
It’s not entirely fair to point out that a team that’s had to deal with breaking pitches thrown by the likes of Corey Kluber and Andrew Miller is struggling to put the ball in play. Kluber, Miller, Cody Allen, and Bryan Shaw have pitched 24.3 of the 45 innings this series, and that would make life hard on anyone. Still, the Indians certainly seem to have found a hole in the Cubs’ brawny lineup, and they are just going to keep burrowing into it.
Playoff series often come down to which team is able to make the proper adjustments. The Cubs bounced back from the Game 1 loss by shrinking the zone and making the Indians earn every strike. That methodical approach got them five runs and a win, but since then Cleveland’s breaking stuff has carried the day. Last night’s win didn’t exactly feel like a decisive victory, and the Cubs will certainly have to deal with Miller and Kluber again if they want to complete the series comeback. Maybe there’s not much anyone can do to avoid swinging at pitches in the dirt when those guys are on the mound, but the Cubs sure as hell need to figure something out.