The World series is finally set. The 2016 season started with 30 teams and was then whittled down to 10 playoff contenders. Finally, we are left with the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians, who will battle it out starting Tuesday night in Cleveland. The Cubs were always expected to reach the World Series after a dominating regular season, as they made history by reaching the Fall Classic for the first time since 1945. Meanwhile, the Indians have been a revelation in the playoffs after dealing with injuries to their pitching staff late in the season. Of course, all that matters now is how each team performs over the next seven games. Let’s take a look at how these two teams match up against one another.
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Offense – Advantage Chicago
Neither team has been as consistent as they would like during the postseason, but the Cubs are starting to come on strong after being one of the best offensive clubs in baseball during the regular season. One of the biggest differences in these teams during the playoffs has been extra-base hits. The Cubs have 12 home runs and 21 doubles during the postseason, while the Indians have just 11 home runs and nine doubles. Even though Chicago has played two more games than Cleveland during the postseason, the difference in doubles is sizable and bodes well for the Cubs.
Throughout much of the postseason, the Cubs were carried by Kris Bryant and Javier Baez, while getting a key hit every now and then from an ancillary player. However, over the last two games of the NLCS, the likes of Addison Russell, Anthony Rizzo, and Dexter Fowler have started to wake up, giving the Cubs the kind of depth in their lineup that made them an offensive force during the regular season.
As for Cleveland, while the Indians have scored enough runs to supplement their excellent pitching, they have not been clicking on all cylinders. Francisco Lindor has emerged as a star during the playoffs and has been a catalyst for the Indians, but the trio of Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, and Mike Napoli are all hitting below .200 during the postseason. The Indians need those three players to step up during the World Series; otherwise, they won’t be able to keep up with Chicago’s lineup.
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Rotation – Advantage Cleveland
This is a close call, because the Cubs have a little more depth in their rotation, but the Indians have been so impressive in shutting down two of the most dangerous lineups in baseball during the American League playoffs.
In eight playoff games, Cleveland’s starters have a 1.86 ERA, with opposing hitters batting just .201. Corey Klubber has been the ace of the staff and as good as any other pitcher in the postseason. Josh Tomlin has also been a force to be reckoned with, winning two games and posting a 2.53 ERA. The possibility of getting Danny Salazar back from injury and Trevor Bauer having enough time to recover from his finger injury gives the Indians promising options behind the tandem of Kluber and Tomlin, not to mention the start they got from rookie Ryan Merritt in Game 5 of the ALCS.
The Cubs, of course, have been led by Jon Lester, who has been spectacular through three postseason starts, posting a 0.86 ERA. However, Chicago’s rotation beyond that has been somewhat disappointing. Kyle Hendricks was outstanding in Game 6 of the NLCS, but he had modest results in his two prior starts. Jake Arrieta and John Lackey have also failed to distinguish themselves in the playoffs, as each has been solid, but have not provided the Cubs with the types of starts they were expecting. This gives the Indians a slight advantage when it comes to starting pitching.
Bullpen – Advantage Cleveland
The Cleveland bullpen has been equally as good as the team’s starting pitchers. Andrew Miller was the ALCS MVP, and for good reason. In 11.2 innings this postseason, Miller has struck out 21, while allowing no runs on just five hits. He has shown that he can pitch multiple innings and can enter the game at any time, so it’s not just the 9th inning when he dominates. Closer Cody Allen is also yet to concede a run during the postseason. The tandem of Miller and Allen is capable of getting the final nine outs of any game, taking some pressure of the team’s starters. If Salazar ends up pitching in a relief role in the World Series, the Cleveland bullpen could be even deeper.
Of course, Chicago’s bullpen has been good too, just not quite as dominant as Cleveland’s. Aroldis Chapman can be a dominating force, but he does have two blown saves in the postseason. The Cubs do have a few more options than the Indians when it comes to bullpen depth, but the likes of Mike Montgomery, Hector Rondon, and Pedro Strop have all been solid but unspectacular during the playoffs. When it comes to closing down games in the final two or three innings, the Indians have had the better bullpen during the postseason.
Prediction – Indians Win in 7 Games
The Cubs enter the World Series as considerable betting favorites, as well they should be, but this series figures to be close. The Cubs are scary offensively, and things started to click for them during the last two games of the NLCS. That being said, great pitching can be the ultimate equalizer, and the Indians have proven throughout the playoffs that they have tremendous pitching.
If the series goes six or seven games, the Indians will have to face questions about the depth of their rotation, something that is less of an issue for the Cubs, which could swing things back in Chicago’s favor. However, between quality starters, a lockdown bullpen, and having home field advantage, the Indians will prevent the Cubs from winning a World Series, winning Game 7 at home and giving the city of Cleveland its second championship of 2016. Cleveland wins in 7 games.