With the official first pitch of 2016 World Series being thrown tonight at 8:07 P.M., let’s take a look at the historic matchup between the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs.
We couldn’t have picked a better story: The Cubs haven’t been to the Fall Classic since 1945 and haven’t won it since 1908; the Cleveland Indians haven’t been there since 1997, but more importantly, are representing a surge in Cleveland sports for the ages.
With all that being said, let’s break down this year’s teams and how they will stack up against each other.
The Cubs had the best record in the majors this season with 103 wins. In the playoffs, however, they were tested in both series versus the San Francisco Giants who took them to five games and the Los Angeles Dodgers were took them to six.
The Cubs relied heavily on their pitching on the front and back end. As far as the starters go, Jon Lester has posted a microscopic 0.87 ERA while the Cubs won all three of his postseason starts so far. Kyle Hendricks, Saturday night’s NLCS- clinching winner, has pitched extremely efficiently, keeping the ball down in the zone, and continuously getting ground balls to kill offensive innings. Jake Arrieta, last year’s Cy Young Award winner, has struggled a little this postseason, but has pitched well enough in games to keep his team in it with enough time for the offense to step up.
The back end of the rotation showed their dominance all postseason. Innings- eaters like lefty Travis Wood (who also has a home run this playoffs), Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop have come in and filled the void in those rare times that their starters haven’t gone deep into games. They’ve effectively pitched big in the middle innings and then given the ball to fireballer Aroldis Chapman, whose fastball has reached 103 MPH in most appearances this postseason, making it hard for hitters to get good timing. Although there have been times where he’s gotten touched up just a little bit, for the most part, he was lights out this postseason.
Off the strength of their pitching, the Cubs’ third ranked offense in the majors, experienced their share of darkness during the playoffs, but when it mattered most, they delivered and shined bright.
Second Basemen Javier Baez has shined the brightest of them all. For an offense who, for the most part, has been struggling this postseason, Baez has been the steady force at the plate that has kept them alive and picked up the slack.
This postseason, Baez is batting .342 with one homer, and seven RBI’s. These don’t look like huge stats for the 11 games that the Cubs have played this postseason, but it’s the timely hits that have made the difference. Big doubles when the Cubs were struggling offensively and they needed that spark to get them going. A go- ahead and eventual game- winning home run in the eighth inning versus the Giants in Game one of the NLDS against Johnny Cueto who was dominating. Stealing home in the opening game of the NLCS versus the Dodgers. Baez was the Cubs offense in the playoffs and that was a big reason why he shared NLCS Co-MVP honors with Jon Lester.
With Baez as the sparkplug, the Cubs offense with guys like Dexter Fowler, with two keys hits on Clayton Kershaw in the game- clinching NLCS Game six, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo finally came to life in the last three games of the NLCS when the Cubs needed them most. If they continue their hot streaks into the World Series, the Indians will be in a lot of trouble.
The Cleveland Indians were easily the best team so far in the playoffs.
Only surrendering one game to the Toronto Blue Jays in Game Four of the ALCS, the Indians were otherwise dominating the Boston Red Sox and Blue Jays with impeccable team play.
Starting with the pitching, with two of their key starters injured (Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco) the Indians starters held down the fort and consistently pitched deep into games, keeping the amazing Red Sox and Blue Jays lineups at bay, Ace Corey Kluber did his job as the number one of the staff, going 2-1 with a 0.98 ERA. Trevor Bauer, who actually cut his finger trying to fly a drone before Game Three, pitched fairly well through his two playoff starts and looks to be healed from that injury in time to start Game Two of the World Series.
Much like the Cubs, their bullpen is what the pitching staff leaned on. This was apparent in that Bauer Game Three start when he had to leave the game in the first inning because he was bleeding so bad. This meant that Manager Terry Francona had to “manage” the bullpen to go eight- plus innings and that he did. Starting with middle reliever Dan Otero, the Indians bullpen stepped up and held the Blue Jays offense at a minimum with contributions from Bryan Shaw, and Zach McAllister. The ball was then given to ALCS MVP Andrew Miller who has been the most dominant pitcher of the playoffs. In six appearances, he has pitched 11.2 innings, only giving up three hits, recording one save and striking out a crazy 21 batters.
In addition to the stellar pitching, the offense, with its team approached, bunted over runners into scoring position, stole bases at will and had timely hits that propelled them to the World Series. Their early and late game hitting, put pressure on the opposing teams to start and finish games. If they didn’t get to their starters and their middle relief guys, they definitely weren’t getting to Miller who looked untouchable.
Francisco Lindor has led the offensive charge. He’s batting .323 with two home runs and four RBI’s this postseason. Although he was the only player to hit over .300, players like Lonnie Chisenhall and Jose Ramirez provided key hits and at bats in the middle of the order. Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis did a great job in the one and two spots in the order by working pitch counts, getting on base and hitting the ball hard in the later innings of games that helped the Indians pull through.
Both teams enter tonight looking to play their best baseball. Right now, both are pitching fantastic. This series will come down to who finds their offensive stride, especially in those late game situations where both have come through when they needed to. This series will go all seven games and whichever offense has that one last magic moment, that team will be hoisting up the World Series trophy for the first time in a long time.
Who do you think will win the World Series? Let’s talk about it here or find me on Twitter @Phenombc3