What will be the difference in the World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians? It’s an intriguing thing to explore.
By Charles Jay
When we talk about the World Series matchup between the Chicago Cubs in the Cleveland Indians, what will it come down to? Should we crunch a lot of sabermetric numbers? Or should we look at the very basic things that constitute the difference between one team and another? Obviously no one in the major leagues plays a seven-game series during the regular season, but we call this a “short series” nonetheless. Truly, either side can come away with a victory, as they have been good enough to get themselves of this far.
The Cubs have been pretty lucky, as far as injuries are concerned. Obviously the exception to that is Kyle Schwarber, who came up from the minors last season and put on a power display, particularly in the post-season, when he hit five home runs in nine games. He tore up his knee in early April, and has been inactive; that is, until now. Schwarber has been getting some at-bats in the Arizona Fall League, although not too many, but he is going to be inserted as the designated hitter for at least one or two games that will be played at Progressive Field in Cleveland. Whether that works or not is anybody’s guess. It is obviously extremely hard to bring someone in after all that inactivity and expect that they will have some timing going for them. But Schwarber may be worth the risk; he came up last season and hit 16 homers in 69 regular-season games as a rookie. So there is something of an upside, with a big bonus it really works out for them.
Will that be the thing that makes the difference in this series? Well, that’s the great thing about the Fall Classic – it really can come down to what one player contributes, if he gets really hot.
The Cubs have more stars on their roster; that much has to be conceded by any reasonable observer. They have this year’s favorite for Most Valuable Player in Kris Bryant, along with last year’s Cy Young Award winner (Jake Arrieta) and two pretty good candidates to win this year’s award in Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester. We know that Lester is pitching the opening game, and if you are reading this afterward, you know how that turned out. The Cubs may go with him three times in this series, and if they do, the Indians might get flummoxed, but at the same time, they might relish the opportunity of going against someone who does not exactly do a good job of holding runners on base.
Chicago Cubs -210
Cleveland Indians +175
Yes, that’s right, despite the fact that the Cubs won 103 games on the season, compared to just 94 for the Indians, Cleveland has the first two games at home, and four games overall if this goes seven, by virtue of the fact that the American League won the All-Star game. That plays into this formula, because when you take a look at the “splits” on the Indians, you’ll see that they batted .288 at home, and their OPS (on-base average plus slugging percentage) is 136 points higher at Progressive Field than it is on the road. In other words, they have the capability of scoring a lot of runs on their home field.
So it’s up to the Cubs to prevent that, obviously. Aside from the three starting pitchers we named, there is also John Lackey, who is no stranger to pitching in clutch games, having made 22 post-season starts. And yes, he has won the seventh game of the World Series, doing that as a rookie with the Anaheim Angels. This season, Lackey posted his best figures in several categories, including strikeout rate and WHIP ratio (walks plus hits per innings pitched). So of the Cubs go to a fourth starter, they may not be handicapped all that much.
Where they MIGHT be disadvantaged, however, is in the area of stopping the Cleveland running game. When you put together all the figures of their catchers combined, they have thrown at only 22% of would-be base thieves. David Ross, who might see the bulk of the time behind the plate, has thrown out 27%. Well, the Indians have been successful 81% of the time stealing bases, and that is the best figure in the American League. It’s not that everybody in the lineup is a threat to swipe, but three of those guys – Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor (the fantastic shortstop) and José Ramirez have on-base percentages of .340 or higher. This is something the Cubs genuinely have to worry about.
And as these games get to the late innings, the versatility of the respective bullpens has to come into play. The Indians, with the exception of Corey Kluber, who has a 0.98 ERA in the playoffs, are not expected to get a lot of innings out of their starters. But they DO have plenty of people who can bridge the gap to the closer, Andrew Miller. That includes Cody Allen, who has thrown 7 2/3 scoreless innings with 12 strikeouts in post-season play. Bryan Shaw, Zach McAllister and Jeff Manship can all give them quality innings. And Terry Francona can use rookie Ryan Merritt in either a starting role or out of the ‘pen.
Andrew Miller can go more than one inning if need be, and that is a very important consideration, when you acknowledge that he makes it very difficult for opposing hitters to even get the bat on the ball. Miller has struck out 21 batters in 11 2/3 innings in the post-season, and he has yet to allow a run. We like Cleveland’s bullpen. We like their ability to advance on the base paths, and we think that gives them a genuine opportunity to cash in for their supporters at an underdog price – whether it is +175 for the series, or +500 to win it in seven.