Natural selection of the MLB has narrowed the playing field down to the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs. Will the Cubs break the 108 year drought or will the Indians pull off the upset and spoil Chicago’s hopes once again? Let’s breakdown the matchup:
There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it, trying to navigate the Cubs lineup is an absolute gauntlet. While the middle of the lineup (i.e. Bryant, Rizzo) represents the strongest point in Chicago’s offensive presence, hitters like Javier Baez, Addison Russell, Ben Zobrist, Dexter Fowler, Wilson Contreras, and even Miguel Montero, possess plenty of pop themselves. From table-setters to run producers to key pinch hitters, the Cubs have had arguably the best and the deepest offense of any MLB team this season.
They do not have the same names, or quite frankly, the same consistent offensive output as their World Series opponent, but the Cleveland Indians can certainly hold their own. Francisco Lindor, the young stud who has played a major role in the team’s success, Mike Napoli, Jose Ramirez, Carlos Santana, and Jason Kipnis, make up a rather formidable lineup. They may not be able to match the overall run production of the Cubs, but they have proven time and again throughout the postseason that they can get the key hits when they need them.
Arguably the perfect combination of experience and power, Chicago’s rotation is almost as scary as its offense. Although he has struggled a bit during this postseason (0-1, 4.90 ERA), Jake Arrieta has shown in the past that he can perform under the bright lights. Meanwhile, Kyle Hendricks has not shown any signs of weakness during his playoff starts, and Jon Lester continues to display his elite postseason ability.
Over the past two playoff series (during which Cleveland lost only one game), the Indians have faced debatably two of baseball’s most potent offenses. During these eight games, in which they faced superstars like Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, David Ortiz, and Mookie Betts, Cleveland starters have allowed 8 runs over 32.1 innings (2.24 ERA). Here is the crazy part: they did it without two of baseball’s elite starters in Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. Corey Kluber, Josh Tomlin, and Trevor Bauer, although their names may not carry the same connotations as those of the Cubs, clearly possess the potential to dominate games.
There is no getting past the fact that the back end of Chicago’s bullpen is scary. Pedro Strop and Aroldis Chapman headline what may one of the better bullpens ever to appear in a World Series. The only problem they seem to have (and I may even be reaching for negatives hear) is that they have not yet been forced to enter before maybe the sixth or seventh inning. While I have full confidence in any of these hurlers to come into a fresh inning and get three quick outs, I question whether they can leave runners stranded or go multiple innings without showing signs of fatigue.
Andrew Miller and Cody Allen have been literally untouchable given that neither of them has allowed a run yet this postseason. Miller was the ALCS MVP with good reason, and Allen would have been my next candidate. Filthy, dirty, overpowering, and dominant are the words that come to mind when I think about this battery lurking at the back end of the Cleveland bullpen, and they have shown the unique ability to maintain success over multiple innings and on short rest. The Cubs pen is certainly scary, but they simply have not had the same effect as that of the Indians.
Joe Maddon (like him or not) is one of the more successful managers in baseball today. He has proven that he can win with teams that lack talent, and there is no denying what he has done with one of baseball’s most talented teams in the Cubs. Here is my only problem with him: he has yet to win a World Series. Before anyone points out that he received no help from Tampa’s front office during his time there, he had multiple championship-caliber teams that boasted prime superstars like Carl Crawford, BJ Upton, David Price, James Shields, Evan Longoria, Scott Kazmir, Ben Zobrist, and many more. In no way am I implying that he is at fault for his previous teams’ lack of performance, but I am not sure he can really be labeled an elite manager until he has a title under his belt.
Aside from head-scratching, although effective, bullpen moves over the past two series (i.e. Miller in the fifth with no one on), Terry Francona has proven to be an extremely successful manager during his time in the MLB. His two World Series wins with the Red Sox and his success in this year’s postseason make him one of baseball’s best, giving the Indians a slight edge in this category.
Storylines to Watch
Kyle Schwarber and Danny Salazar are back
As he looked to build on an impressive rookie season, Kyle Schwarber’s season ended early with a torn ACL. His road to recovery has finally ended, however, as he has been placed on the Cubs’ World Series roster and is slated to DH in game one. Aside from the excitement that comes with his presence and the general buzz around the baseball world, there are many questions looming as to what effect he may potentially have on the already potent Cubs lineup. Is he completely healthy? Is his timing/power still there? Has the injury taken a toll on him or will he pick up right where he left off last season? Should he be able to regain his past production, however, the Cubs lineup could be overwhelming.
While the bulk of the news has surrounded Schwarber, some may have missed that Danny Salazar will be back from his elbow injury. If he will start any games in the World Series, how he will throw, and what effect he will have on the series remains to be seen, but he, just like Schwarber, could be a huge x factor for his team if fully healthy.
Can Andrew Miller keep it up?
He has allowed just five hits and two walks without giving up a run over 11.2 innings of work, also striking out 21 batters in the process. The word “dominance” does not even do justice to the way he has performed in the playoffs so far. Will he be able to keep it up against the Cubs offense, or will fatigue finally get the better of him?
Can Chicago break the curse?
I am not one for superstition but after 108 years without a World Series victory, one must ponder whether the curse of the billy goat is a real thing. Given that the hex was placed upon the Wrigley faithful in 1945, the last time (before this season) the Cubs made it to the World Series, it seems that it may already be broken. In the minds of Cubs fans around the world, though, the curse will not be lifted until their team hoists the trophy in Chicago. Should they be pushed to the brink of elimination at some point in the series, will the Cubs allow the thought of the curse to plague their performance? Only time will tell.