Thanks to Saturday night's 7-2 win in Game 4, the Indians are one win away from their first World Series championship since way back in 1948. The Tribe hold a 3-1 series lead over the Cubs. Game 5 is Sunday night. Here's how you can watch.
The Indians allowed two runs in Game 4 and, amazingly, their postseason runs allowed per game average went up. They've given up only 22 runs in 12 games, or 1.83 per game. In Game 3 on Friday, Cleveland became the first team in history to throw five shutouts in a single postseason.
Terry Francona's club has been able to do this without No. 2 and 3 starters Carlos Carrasco (hand) and Danny Salazar (forearm), which makes it even more impressive. It helps when built-in off-days allow Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller, and Cody Allen to throw 57 1/3 of the team's 107 innings in October, or 53.6 percent.
The Indians have also dominated opposing offenses by going heavy on breaking balls. It was never more evident than in Game 4. Kluber, who manhandled the Cubs with two-seam fastballs in Game 1, threw 35 curveballs and 16 sliders in Game 4 on Saturday. He threw only 30 fastballs.
Six pitchers have thrown at least eight innings for the Indians this postseason. Here is their regular season breaking ball percentage (curves and sliders) compared to their postseason breaking ball percentage.
| Reg. Season Breaking Ball% ||Postseason Breaking Ball%||Change|
There hasn't been much change among the three relievers -- Allen and Miller throw a ton of breaking balls already anyway -- but look at that three starters. Kluber, Bauer, and Tomlin have upped their breaking ball usage by at least 10 percent each. Tomlin's doubled that.
Generally speaking, breaking balls are much more effective than fastballs. Check out the league-wide regular season numbers:
- Fastballs (Four-seam, two-seam, sinkers): .279 AVG and .457 SLG
- Curveballs: .213 AVG and .339 SLG
- Sliders: .216 AVG and .358 SLG
Hitters have much more success against fastballs, mostly because they're generally straight and they see them more than any other pitch. Curveballs and sliders move and they come in at lower velocities, which disrupts timing.
The breaking ball heavy approach the Indians have taken this postseason makes perfect sense when you see those numbers. Hitters have less success against curves and sliders, so let's throw them more. Piece of cake, right? The pitchers still have to execute, of course, and the Indians have done that.
I'm not sure this strategy is built to last during the 162-game regular season. There's a reason pitchers don't throw this many breaking balls all the time. They're tough on the arm. Throwing 30 percent breaking balls as a starter who throws 180-plus innings during the regular season could lead to arm trouble. There's a self-preservation aspect to this.
In the postseason though -- especially in the World Series -- that all goes out the window. The goal is to win today by any means necessary, and if that means throwing 51 breaking balls and 30 fastballs like Kluber did in Game 4 on Saturday, then so be it. This might not be a good long-term strategy, but it sure is effective in the short-term.
The Indians are one win away from a World Series championship thanks largely to their pitching staff, which has suffocated three great offenses this postseason. The Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Cubs were all among the top nine teams in runs scored in 2016. The Tribe have shut them down thanks to heavy breaking ball usage and, just as importantly, splendid execution.