Weak-hitting Cubs on brink of another World Series flop


Chicago (AFP)

Woeful hitting has the Chicago Cubs on the brink of an eighth consecutive World Series defeat to extend America's longest sports title drought since their last championship in 1908.

Cleveland's 7-2 romp over the Cubs at iconic Wrigley Field gave the Indians a 3-1 lead in Major League Baseball's best-of-seven final and a chance to snap their own futility streak by winning Sunday for their first crown since 1948.

But Cubs manager Joe Maddon says he likes Chicago's chances to make a rare comeback for the trophy if they can fight their way into a sixth game Tuesday at Cleveland.

"We have to have a one-game winning streak tomorrow, and if we do that, I really would be feeling pretty good about going back to Cleveland," Maddon said.

"We just need that offensive epiphany somehow to get us pushing in the right direction. And if we do that, I really think, based on what they have left pitching-wise and what we have, going back over there, I kind of like our chances."

But the Cubs are only batting .204 (28-for-137) with 39 strikeouts in four games. They have managed only two runs in the past 22 innings and have only one hit in their past 27 times at bat with runners on base.

"We just have to do more offensively to give ourselves a chance," Maddon said. "You have to be able to play through the tough moments by doing something offensively, and we haven't been able to do that."

Jon Lester, a 32-year-old right-hander who pitched on two World Series champions with the Boston Red Sox, will start for the Cubs against Trevor Bauer, the game two loser in Cleveland who takes the mound on short rest.

The Indians' depth in relief pitchers has enabled them to dominate in this playoff run with a record five shutouts and 13 consecutive playoff games with eight or more strikeouts.

"They have been pitching great. They have been outstanding," Maddon said. "And you can see it. We're obviously having a tough time.

"It's just a matter of us gaining offensive confidence. That's what we need right now more than anything. When you're not hitting like that, the whole vibe's very difficult to push in that real positive direction."

Cubs leadoff batter Dexter Fowler is 4-for-17 in the World Series with number two hitter Kris Bryant struggling at 1-for-14 and Anthony Rizzo next at 4-for-14.

Wilson Contreras is 1-for-13 at the plate with Addison Russell only 2-for-15 with the bat and Javier Baez just 2-for-17, and a miserable 1-for-13 with runners on base.

- Win or go home for Cubs -

Lester won 19 games for the Cubs this season and Maddon hopes he has one more in him because he likes his chances against Cleveland game-three starter Josh Tomlin and Corey Kluber, the first World Series pitcher since 1990 to win games one and four with short rest. Kluber would pitch again on short rest if the Cubs force a seventh game.

But the Cubs have to win Sunday for any of that to happen, and they have only as many World Series wins at Wrigley Field in 102 years as the Indians have in two days.

"I don't think you can really take it any different than any other start. You have to have the same mindset going into it," Lester said of pitching the do-or-die matchup.

"If you're down 3-1 and you're going in there saying, 'You have to do this, you have to do that,' to try to stay alive, I think you've kind of already been beaten. You're not worried about the right thing."