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World Series Preview: One Way Or Another, A Historic Drought Ends

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

The Cubs and the Indians own the longest championship droughts in baseball. Which team will finally claim a World Series crown?

I have been hoping to see this World Series matchup since June 19 when the Cavaliers won the NBA title. Why? Because it would mean either one of two things would happen that would send the sports world into a frenzy.

Either, after being the laughing-stock of the country for 52 woeful years, the city of Cleveland will bring home two major sports championships in less than five months, or the Chicago Cubs will end the longest championship drought in sports history and win the World Series for the first time since 1908.

One of those almost unthinkable things is guaranteed to happen within the next week and a half, and we are the beneficiaries of it.

Regardless of who wins this year’s World Series, it will be a historic one. But which of these perpetually beleaguered teams will finally be able to call themselves World Series champions?

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Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

Starting Pitching


Pitching Matchups

Game 1: Jon Lester vs. Corey Kluber

Game 2: Jake Arrieta vs. Trevor Bauer

Game 3: Kyle Hendricks vs. Josh Tomlin

Game 4: John Lackey vs. Ryan Merritt**

Game 5*: Jon Lester vs. Corey Kluber

Game 6*: Jake Arrieta vs. Trevor Bauer

Game 7*: Kyle Hendricks vs. Josh Tomlin

* = If necessary

** = Danny Salazar is on the roster for the World Series and may make an appearance as a starter


The playoffs breed interesting strategies out of the necessity of the moment. Cleveland has been the team to epitomize that this postseason. Indians starters have pitched just 54.5 percent of innings this postseason, mostly due to strategy, but occasionally due to necessity.

Terry Francona has not been afraid to go to his uber-dominant bullpen at a moment’s notice to take advantage of a particular opportunity, and in one instance, he needed that bullpen to go 8.1 innings after Trevor Bauer’s finger started leaking blood at an alarming rate. Andrew Miller has been the Swiss Army knife (Swiss Army man?) of that bullpen, coming in during a plethora of situations and assignments.

Mounting injuries were supposed to diminish Cleveland’s pitching staff to the point that this team was not expected to make a deep postseason run. The losses of Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar — two pitchers that helped make the Indians’ rotation one of the best in the league during the regular season — were supposed to be nearly insurmountable.

But thanks to three gems from Kluber, some solid work from Josh Tomlin, and Ryan Merritt not caving under the weight of the postseason, Cleveland’s starters became a key component to this World Series run.

Kluber continues to live up to his Cy Young status, posting a 0.98 ERA, a 9.82 K/9, and a 1.09 WHIP. Tomlin has a 2.53 ERA and 0.94 WHIP over two starts, and in Merritt’s lone start, his second in the majors, he threw 4.1 scoreless innings. As a unit, the starters have combined for a 1.86 ERA, a 1.03 WHIP, and a 9.31 K/9 over 38.2 innings of work. Not too shabby.

Salazar is reportedly going to be on the Indians’ World Series roster, and will be available to either make limited starts (60-70 pitches) or come out of the bullpen, which will give the Indians a nice boost on the mound.


If Trevor Bauer can stay away from his drone long enough for his finger to completely heal, and Salazar is able to produce as he normally does — he had a 3.87 ERA, 3.74, FIP, and 10.55 K/9 during the regular season — this will be a difficult rotation for the Cubs’ lineup to contend with. But it’s just not quite as strong as the Cubs’ rotation.

Chicago has two bonafide aces at the top of its rotation, and that doesn’t even include last season’s National League Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta, who has been a little shaky this October.

Jon Lester has been the best starting pitcher in the league this postseason. In 21.0 innings of work spanning three starts, Lester has a 0.86 ERA, a 0.76 WHIP, and a 7.00 K/BB. He has command of all four of his pitches, painting both sides of the plate, and inducing a wonderful combination of ground balls, fly balls, and strikeouts. No one has even come close to solving him.

Kyle Hendricks has been just a step behind Lester. Since being forced to leave his Game 2 NLDS start early after getting drilled in the arm by a line drive, Hendricks has been nothing short of brilliant. Over 12.2 innings, he has allowed just one run and five hits while striking out 11 batters and pitching a shutout into the eighth inning of the deciding game of the NLCS against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers.

There are two aces on this staff, and if this series goes long, Lester and Hendricks will start two games apiece. It will be difficult for the Indians to find a way to grab a win in any of those four potential starts.

The Cubs do have a couple question marks of their own, namely Arrieta. Despite a 10.00 K/BB, the pilates master is the proud owner of a 4.91 ERA this postseason. If Arrieta can return to his normally prolific form, that would give the Cubs three Cy-Young caliber starters, but will he? And will John Lackey be capable of going more than just four innings in his one start?

Even with those couple of questions, the Cubs have two definitive stoppers at the top of their rotation, and that gives them the advantage here.

Edge: Cubs

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Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Offense


Projected Starters


CubsIndians
C3-Man PlatoonRoberto Perez
1BAnthony RizzoCarlos Santana
2BJavier BaezJason Kipnis
3BKris BryantJose Ramirez
SSAddison RussellFrancisco Lindor
LFBen ZobristCoco Crisp
CFDexter FowlerTyler Naquin
RFJason HeywardLonnie Chisenhall
DH*Jorge Soler**Mike Napoli


* = For Games in Cleveland

** = Kyle Schwarber could DH if healthy, and Willson Contreras could DH in games he is not catching


The offensive battle in this series pits a star-studded, prolific offense that is clicking at the right time against an opportunistic offense that will steal runs with aggressive base-running and timely situational hitting.

Cleveland hasn’t scored a ton of runs this postseason, it ranked third among the four LCS teams in runs per game, but it has only trailed in two of its seven games. The Indians score early and then hold you off with pitching and defense.

Francona’s squad finished last among the four LCS teams in playoff batting average, OPS, walks, but did hit timely home runs. And when it did get runners on base, there was a good chance that runner would reach home safely.

The Indians love to run the bases. They will take every opportunity to advance an extra base whether that’s on balls in the dirt, advancing from first to third on a single to the outfield, or just plain-old steals.

That proclivity to move on the base paths could prove interesting in this series, particularly against Lester. Notorious for his awful pick-off move and his inability to throw the ball anywhere but home plate, Lester has been tested this postseason.

The Dodgers tried to get into his head by taking enormous leads off of first base, but never actually tested his horrifyingly awful throwing by trying to steal bases. Knowing the runners weren’t actually going anywhere, Lester essentially ignored them, and he continued to dominate. Although Cleveland has only stolen three bases this postseason, the Indians stole the fourth-most bases in baseball during the regular season, and you can rest assured they will try to take advantage of Lester.

Even the slowed-footed Mike Napoli takes advantage of lefties with bad pick-off moves via delayed steals.




The Indians offense gets the job done well enough to put the pitching in a position to win the game, but the Cubs lineup is so deep, so versatile, and so powerful that it’s tough to not give them the edge here.

After being shutout for two straight contests against the Dodgers, Chicago responded by combining for 23 runs over the final three games of the NLCS. Depending on who you asked, the Cubs had either the best or the second-best offense in baseball this season, and it has finally started to reach a terrifyingly productive gear.

Admittedly, the almighty Cubs lineup — which helped contribute to a +252 run differential during the regular season, the best in baseball in two decades — struggled through the first seven games of the postseason. Chicago showed several times during the NLDS and beginning of the NLCS how clutch it could be, but it hadn’t shown it could be consistent under the postseason spotlight, and most of the biggest names in the lineup were suffering through major slumps.

Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Ben Zobrist, and Dexter Fowler, all essential cogs in the Cubs’ offensive machine, were mired in playoff-long slumps. Rizzo and Russell were dealing with the worst of it. Rizzo was 2-for-26 to start the postseason and Russell was 1-for-24.

But that’s all over now. Rizzo picked up Matt Szczur’s bat, Russell threw on Szczur’s compression shorts, and both have been raking ever since. In the last three games of the NLCS, Rizzo and Russell combined to go 13-for-27 (.481) with four home runs, nine RBIs, and eight runs scored.

The Cubs’ bats have awoken and all should fear them.


Edge: Cubs

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Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Bullpen


Closers and Set-Up Men

Cubs: Aroldis Chapman and Hector Rondon

Indians: Andrew Miller and Cody Allen

Cleveland’s bullpen is the biggest reason it reached the World Series, and if the city of Cleveland is going to bring home its second championship of 2016, this bullpen is going to have to continue to perform at an otherworldly level.

The Indians’ bullpen has pitched 32.1 innings and accumulated a 1.67 ERA, 5.86 K/BB, 11.41 K/9, and 0.99 WHIP. Bryan Shaw, Dan Otero, and Cody Allen have all performed tremendously, and Francona has not been afraid to go to his bullpen in any situation.

But Francona has been particularly cavalier in his use of ALCS MVP and completely unhittable Andrew Miller. The six-foot-seven lefty has entered games in save situations and non-save situations. He’s pitched anywhere from an inning of work to almost three innings of work. He’s come into games during the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth inning. Any time Francona needs him, during any situation, under any circumstances, Miller is ready and willing. And boy, has it paid off.

Miller has pitched 11.2 scoreless innings in six total appearances. He has allowed just five hits and two walks, and he has struck out 21 batters. During the ALCS, he allowed just three baserunners and struck out 14 batters in 7.2 innings of work. And fun fact, Miller is now up to 20.0 career innings of postseason work and he has never allowed a run.

I never thought I’d say this, but thank goodness for Bobby Valentine. If he hadn’t converted Miller into a reliever in 2012, we might never have been able to see Miller’s postseason brilliance. And if the Indians end up winning the World Series and Miller continues to perform at this high of a level, Cleveland’s deal for him with the Yankees could go down as one of the greatest deadline deals of all time.

The Cubs bullpen is talented in its own right. Chicago traded for its own Yankees’ reliever at the deadline, and Aroldis Chapman has been great for the Cubs since arriving at Wrigley in late July. Travis Wood, Mike Montgomery, and Carl Edwards have all proved useful during the postseason.

But Chicago’s pen has been a little shaky at times this postseason. Chapman has allowed three runs and four walks over 8.0 innings of work. Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon have allowed two runs each over just 7.1 combined innings.

It’s a talented bullpen on paper, but it is nowhere near as shutdown as Cleveland’s.


Edge: Indians

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Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Coaching


Managers

Cubs: Joe Maddon

Indians: Terry Francona

Could we have asked for a better managerial matchup than Tito versus Maddon?

Joe Maddon has been touted as one of, if not the best manager in baseball. Now he will get to test his mettle against Terry Francona, the master manager who successfully led the Boston Red Sox out of the depths of baseball’s basement and ended the Curse of the Bambino — the same thing that Maddon is trying to do now for the Cubs.

Francona has shown throughout the postseason how skilled he is in managing his starters and his bullpen in particular. He’s taught his players how to take calculated risks on the base paths. But possibly more importantly, he has his team believing that they are the team of destiny, not the Cubs. He has Cleveland’s players believing that they are meant to extend Chicago’s misery one more season.

That belief is dangerous.

But Maddon is up to the task. He has been able to find ways to keep his team focused and in check throughout the season. He knows how to use his incredibly deep bench and he found a way to energize his offense when it was struggling so much.

And he’s already ended a 70-year pennant drought. Now it’s time to tackle the biggest curse of all.


Edge: Even

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Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Verdict

I have to acknowledge Cleveland’s continued ability to dominate this postseason — the Indians are 7-1 so far — despite the fact that on paper it is not the most talented team. The Indians are led by one of baseball’s best managers and will poke at you until they find a vulnerability and exploit it. They are staring a 67-year franchise drought in the face and are trying to bring Cleveland a second title after the city went 52 years without a single major championship. They have a dominant bullpen, an opportunistic offense, and great starting pitching. They have relished proving everyone wrong and have thrived in the doubt.

But I have to pick the Cubs here.

The Cubs have been the best team in baseball all season long. For a significant portion of the year, they were compared to the 1927 Yankees, the greatest baseball team of all time. They have a vicious lineup that has kicked into full gear, two aces that have dismantled opposing lineups all season long, and they have a 107-season-long curse to break.

This will be a World Series you will remember for the rest of your life. It will be a series that you can tell your grandkids about because at the end of it all, you’ll be able to say “I remember when,” one of these teams ended one of the longest championships droughts in the history of sports.


Prediction: Cubs in seven

Edited by Justin Peroff, Kat Johansen.

SQuiz
During which two seasons did the Cubs and Indians last win a World Series title?
Created 10/23/16
  1. 1908 and 1948
  2. 1912 and 1969
  3. 1920 and 1943
  4. 1906 and 1933

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