Buckle up, folks. The 2016 World Series is almost here, and it’s shaping up to be one of the most epic in recent memory. In one corner, we have the Chicago Cubs making their first Series appearance since 1945. The Cubbies haven’t won it all since 1908, but will attempt to rewrite history very soon. The lovable losers have morphed into a powerhouse of an organization over the last two seasons. This year, they stormed out of the gate and barely stumbled on their way to 103 wins, the most in baseball. A formidable pitching staff and strong offense power this club. Its architect? Theo Epstein, who already broke one curse during his time with the Boston Red Sox.
In the other corner sit the Cleveland Indians, who have scrapped and fought their way through what should have been devastating injuries to their pitching staff. Underdogs from the postseason’s opening bell, the Tribe have defied expectations at every turn. Manager Terry Francona knows better than anyone how to get the most from his players, as he did with the 2004 Sox. As much a curse-breaker as Epstein, Tito looks to bring Cleveland its first title since 1948.
Cubs vs Indians for the World Series
Our combatants are locked in and ready to go. By virtue of the American League‘s victory in the All-Star Game, the Indians now await the arrival of the Cubs in Cleveland. There remains but one question: who will take home the trophy?
At the Plate
Based on regular season numbers, one would have to give a slight advantage to the Cubs offense. Young third baseman Kris Bryant turned in an MVP-caliber season, with 39 homers, 102 RBI, and a .292 batting average. First baseman Anthony Rizzo all but kept pace, putting up 32 home runs, 109 RBI, and a .292 average of his own. Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist wield dangerous bats as well, and solid contributors litter the roster.
In the playoffs, much of that offense dried up for a while, and it almost cost them both the NLDS and the NLCS. However, guys like Javier Baez and Willson Contreras stepped up and filled the void left by the absence of production from the big names, and in the end, Rizzo and company returned to form. While Cleveland’s lineup features dangerous hitters like Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, and Mike Napoli, it simply doesn’t have the pure firepower that the Cubs can offer at their best. If Chicago’s bats stay hot, this will be a tough series for the Indians to win.
On the Mound
While Corey Kluber has pitched as well as anyone in the postseason and could win this year’s AL Cy Young Award, this rotation remains a question mark for the Indians. Losing guys like Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco for the year would hurt any team, and Cleveland has weathered the storm better than most could have. Yet, while their fill-in starters have mostly fared well in the postseason in terms of ERA, they are still giving up plenty of hits. Though the Indians outscored their two previous opponents, they didn’t truly outhit them; rather, their starters are allowing plenty of hits, but thus far have mostly prevented those hits from turning into runs. If that shifts even a little bit, if some of those hits start coming with men on base, the Indians will be in trouble.
On the other side, the Cubs feature perhaps the best rotation in baseball. Jon Lester stands as one of the game’s best lefties, and has dominated in the postseason over his career. The value of that kind of experience and reputation cannot be overstated. Behind him, Jake Arrieta remains the reigning National League Cy Young winner, and Kyle Hendricks is one of the top young arms in baseball. If Lester out-duels Kluber in Game One, the slope could get very slippery for Cleveland.
In the Pen
While the Cubs have a solid bullpen, it does deal with inconsistency. Even Aroldis Chapman, one of the league’s very best in the ninth inning, has his issues. He can blow his 103 MPH fastball by most hitters, but he often relies too much on it. Hitters can go up against him looking for a fastball almost every time; eventually, good ones like Lindor can catch up to it.
The Tribe, on the other hand, boast perhaps the best bullpen in baseball. It’s solid from top to bottom, as demonstrated in Cleveland’s 4-2 win in Game Three of the ALCS, in which none of the seven Indians pitchers recorded more than five outs. At the back end of the pen sits the three-headed monster of Bryan Shaw, Andrew Miller, and Cody Allen. Shaw recorded 25 holds in the regular season, and Allen registered 32 saves. Allen and Miller have yet to give up a run in the postseason, and Miller owns a ridiculous 21 strikeouts in just 11.2 innings, thanks largely to a devastating slider. If the Indians can get a game to the sixth or seventh inning with a lead, that trio gives them a great chance of picking up the win.
In the Dugout
While Joe Maddon is a great manager and could be the NL Manager of the Year, the experience and savvy of Francona is unmatched. He’s worked around injuries better than any other manager could, and he’s been here before. He’s a two-time World Champion, and he knows how to get a team of unknown and under-appreciated players to give that extra 10%. With home field advantage on his side, he’s hard to beat. His team went 53-28 at home in the regular season, and is 4-0 in Cleveland in the postseason. If any manager can beat the odds, it’s Francona.
And the Winner is…
This should prove to be a great World Series. These teams are evenly matched, each built to neutralize the other’s greatest strengths. Whatever the outcome, this Series will be as historic as any in recent memory, and more so than most. However, baseball doesn’t allow ties, and a winner must emerge. One team seems to have a clear advantage in terms of starting rotation, and a slight advantage, on paper, at the plate. More often than not, that team will come out on top.
2016 World Series Champion: Chicago Cubs win the Series 4-3