In one corner, the immovable object that is the Chicago Cubs’ 108-year championship drought. In the other corner, the unstoppable force that is the Cleveland Indians’ 68-year title-less streak. Something’s got to give!

Lineups (AVG/OBP/SLG/TAv)



CF-S Dexter Fowler


DH-S Carlos Santana


3B-R Kris Bryant


2B-L Jason Kipnis


1B-L Anthony Rizzo


SS-S Francisco Lindor


LF-S Ben Zobrist


1B-R Mike Napoli


2B-R Javier Baez


3B-S Jose Ramirez


DH-L Kyle Schwarber

(Did Not Play)

RF-L Lonnie Chisenhall


SS-R Addison Russell


LF-S Coco Crisp


RF-L Jason Heyward


CF-L Tyler Naquin


C-R David Ross


C-R Roberto Perez


Chicago’s offense was the best in the National League and arguably the best in baseball during the regular season, posting a collective .287 True Average that easily led the majors. To put their lineup’s prowess in some context, consider that the Cubs’ team True Average of .287—led by Bryant at .350 and Rizzo, Fowler, and Zobrist also above .300—was higher than any individual Indians hitter’s True Average. And, unlike many NL teams that reach the World Series, they have several appealing designated hitter options available for the four games played under AL rules in Cleveland.

In a big surprise, one of those designated hitter options may be Schwarber, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the Cubs’ third game. Schwarber, whose fantastic 2015 rookie season included five postseason homers, was recently cleared to return to action in the Arizona Fall League and is expected to be added to the World Series roster as a DH and pinch-hitter. It’s impossible to know how effective he could be following a six-month layoff, but Schwarber hit .246/.355/.487 as a 22-year-old rookie and his left-handed power bat could make Chicago’s lineup even scarier. And the non-Schwarber options at DH are plenty appealing too.

On the flip side, unless manager Terry Francona decides to get very creative defensively the Indians’ starting lineup will be without either Santana or Napoli for the three games at Wrigley Field. Santana led the team in walks and ranked first among full-time players in True Average, on-base percentage and OPS. Napoli led the team in RBIs. And they tied for the team lead with 34 homers. Certainly the Rangers and Blue Jays would attest to the Indians having a good, deep lineup, but removing one of their top four hitters for three games would hurt considerably.

Ross will start at least twice for the Cubs while catching Jon Lester, but with the Indians using right-handed starters for at least five of the seven games and the DH spot giving manager Joe Maddon other options it’s possible that they’ll give multiple starts at catcher to three different players if the series goes the distance. In addition to catcher and DH, right field is a spot where Maddon may also switch things up depending on how much faith he wants to place in Heyward to snap out of a season-long funk. Cleveland has a good lineup, but Chicago has a great lineup with nearly endless depth.

Benches (AVG/OBP/SLG/TAv)



C/OF-R Willson Contreras


OF-R Rajai Davis


C-L Miguel Montero


OF-R Brandon Guyer


OF-R Jorge Soler


C-R Yan Gomes


OF-L Chris Coghlan


IF/OF-S Michael Martinez


OF-R Albert Almora


How much the benches come into play during a seven-game series is tough to predict, but on a relative basis this might be where the Cubs have the biggest advantage. No position player the Cubs could trot out is worse than an average regular, and if used in the right situations every bat on the bench is capable of making an impact as a platoon starter or pinch-hitter. And if Maddon decides to bench Heyward, even he’ll loom as a potent late-inning defensive replacement.

Meanwhile, the Indians will have only two good bench bats available for their four home games—likely either a Davis/Guyer pairing or a Naquin/Crisp pairing, depending on the starting lineup—and that number will rise to three if Santana or Napoli joins the backups at Wrigley Field. The rest of the Indians’ bench is nearly unusable, or at least Francona would love to not have to use them in anything resembling a key spot. Avoiding turning to Martinez or Gomes will be a lot tougher in Chicago, where the disparity in bench quality and Cleveland choosing a 12th pitcher over 14th hitter could turn a game late.

Starting Pitchers (IP, ERA, DRA)



LHP Jon Lester (203, 2.44, 3.08)

RHP Corey Kluber (215, 3.14, 2.97)

RHP Jake Arrieta (197, 3.10, 4.02)

RHP Trevor Bauer (190, 4.26, 4.12)

RHP Kyle Hendricks (190, 2.13, 3.33)

RHP Josh Tomlin (174, 4.40, 4.17)

RHP John Lackey (188, 3.35, 3.97)

RHP Danny Salazar (137, 3.87, 3.12)

Lester vs. Kluber in Game 1 is a great matchup between two of baseball’s truly elite starters, but it’s unclear if they’ll get a rematch later in the series because of how Francona may opt to juggle the rest of the Indians’ rotation. Maddon figures to rely on all four of his starters as scheduled and avoid using anyone on short rest, which is a luxury Francona can only dream of with Carlos Carrasco out and Salazar on a limited pitch count as he returns from the disabled list for his first action since September 9.

Bauer (assuming he’s stopped bleeding by now) and Tomlin are decent enough mid-rotation starters, but Francona would be thrilled to get five passable innings in any of their outings and will probably have the bullpen on standby at all times. Ryan Merritt came up (relatively) big in the ALCS against Toronto in his third career start, but if Salazar is able to throw three or four innings it’ll be tempting to give him the nod and have Merritt available out of the bullpen.

Lester is so good and the Cubs’ overall rotation depth is so impressive that they have the reigning Cy Young winner (Arrieta) in the second spot, the ERA champ (Hendricks) in the third spot, and one of the most experience postseason pitchers of all time (Lackey) in the fourth spot. Chicago’s fifth starter, veteran right-hander Jason Hammel, doesn’t even crack the roster after throwing 167 innings with a 3.83 ERA and 144/53 K/BB ratio, but would be a viable option to start Game 2 if he were on Cleveland.

Assuming the Cubs don’t agree to loan out Hammel out of the kindness of their hearts, the big decision facing Francona is whether to use Kluber twice on full rest or three times on short rest. Kluber could start Game 1 and Game 5 on full rest, and possibly be available in relief for Game 7. Or he could start Game 1 on full rest, and Game 4 and Game 7 on three days’ rest. There’s a lot that could go into Francona’s decision, including where the series stands after three games, Kluber’s workload and performance in Game 1, and how rested the bullpen is at any given point.

Kluber is the biggest rotation key in the series, because he’s really good, the rest of the Indians’ rotation is shaky, and he could be the only pitcher to start three times in seven games. If that does happen, Kluber would be pitching Game 7 on short rest against Hendricks, as the Cubs adjusted their rotation slightly to move Arrieta into the second slot after using him in Game 3 of both the NLDS and NLCS. Hendricks shut out the Dodgers for 7.1 innings Saturday, so he’ll go third on full rest.

Relief Pitchers (IP, ERA, DRA)



LHP Aroldis Chapman (58, 1.55, 2.04)

LHP Andrew Miller (74, 1.45, 1.22)

RHP Hector Rondon (51, 3.53, 2.70)

RHP Cody Allen (68, 2.51, 2.50)

RHP Pedro Strop (47, 2.85, 2.38)

RHP Bryan Shaw (67, 3.24, 3.71)

LHP Mike Montgomery (100, 2.52, 3.89)

RHP Dan Otero (70, 1.53, 3.06)

LHP Travis Wood (61, 2.95, 5.72)

RHP Zach McAllister (52, 3.44, 4.92)

RHP Justin Grimm (53, 4.10, 3.49)

RHP Jeff Manship (43, 3.12, 4.70)

RHP Carl Edwards Jr. (36, 3.75, 2.45)

RHP Michael Clevinger (54, 5.26, 4.79)

LHP Ryan Merritt (11, 1.64, 4.08)

If there’s an area where a compelling argument can be made that the Indians have an edge over the Cubs, this is it. Both teams bolstered an already strong bullpen by acquiring a stud left-hander at midseason, but Miller has looked unhittable throughout the playoffs while Chapman has mostly struggled. There’s no guarantee that will continue and admittedly it feels odd to treat someone as dominant as Chapman like anything but a game-changing strength, but that’s how amazing Miller has been for the Indians.

Cleveland’s closer and second-best reliever, Allen, has looked more reliable this month than the Cubs’ setup duo of Rondon and Strop, and the Indians have solid middle-relief depth in Shaw and Otero. To be clear, the Indians’ bullpen is not obviously better than the Cubs’ bullpen—and may not be better at all if Chapman pitches like he did during the regular season—but this is the one place where believing Cleveland has the upper hand is at least reasonable. With a 1.27 ERA, 144 strikeouts, and 11 walks in 85 total innings Miller is beyond “closer” or “setup man” labels at this point.


Cleveland’s defense is very good, ranking sixth in defensive efficiency and ninth in park-adjusted defensive efficiency during the regular season and performing another half-step above that so far in the playoffs. In particular the Napoli-Kipnis-Lindor-Ramirez infield is one of the best in baseball, turning grounders into outs 78 percent of the time, and Perez rates among the elite pitch-framers. Their outfield can be shaky at times, but the Indians definitely help their pitching staff overall.

Chicago’s defense is even better. And that’s no knock on Cleveland, because “Chicago’s defense is even better” can be said of any team in baseball this season and, based on BP’s park-adjusted defensive efficiency numbers, any team in baseball since at least 1973. Chicago led the majors in getting outs on ground balls, fly balls, and line drives this year and their postseason DER of .715 would have led the majors during the regular season. They simply get to balls other defenses do not, which shows itself in turning a good pitching staff (3.85 DRA) into baseball’s best by a wide margin (3.15 ERA) and in the many highlight-reel plays the postseason audience has seen Baez, Russell, Fowler, and others make this month.


Two of the best, most-respected managers in baseball squaring off in a series that will provide both will ample opportunity to think outside the box. Maddon has vastly superior depth at his disposal up and down the roster, allowing him to mix and match at the bottom of the lineup, with pinch-hitters, and with relievers. Francona has The Hammer in Miller, which he’s used early and often brilliantly throughout the postseason, and the Indians’ lack of rotation depth also provides him with a way to potentially leave his stamp on this series with a key decision.

Dave Roberts and the Dodgers talked a big game about exploiting Lester's throwing problems, but like most teams before them, the actual impact of their "focus" on the running game versus the Cubs left-hander was minimal. On a per-inning basis this season 16 pitchers allowed more steals than Lester, whose pairing with Ross behind the plate often gives runners second thoughts. Lester has started 35 games this year between the regular season and postseason, and the sum total of his well-documented throwing issues has been 30 steals and 14 caught stealing. In other words, it hasn't made a lick of difference.

It can, of course, if the opposing manager and baserunners commit to taking huge leads off Lester and actually use them for something beyond dancing around their original base. Cleveland has plenty of team speed, leading the league with 134 steals while being caught just 31 times, but the Indians attempted only five steals in eight ALDS and ALCS games. Rajai Davis was 43-for-49 during the regular season, Lindor, Ramirez, and Kipnis all have 20-steal speed, and late-season pickup Coco Crisp remains a threat to run at age 36.


Homefield advantage certainly adds some weight on the Indians’ side of the scale, but things still clearly tilt in the Cubs’ direction overall. Chicago has vastly superior depth and quality in both the lineup and the rotation, plus far better bench options and one of the best defenses of all time. At full strength the Indians’ rotation might be able to keep pace, but Cleveland will be at an obvious starting pitching disadvantage whenever Kluber isn’t on the mound.

Of all the possible areas in which to break down this matchup, the three where the Indians could most credibly claim an advantage are relief pitching, managing, and baserunning, but in all three areas some subjectivity is required to see the advantage because the Cubs are also very strong. Any formula that results in Cleveland winning this series seemingly relies on Francona pulling all the right strings, leading to the Kluber/Miller/Allen trio taking on a massive share of the innings in the hopes of equalizing some of Chicago’s depth.

Cleveland is absolutely capable of winning this series and anyone treating the Indians as worse than, say, a 40/60 underdog—big by baseball terms, but modest in other sports and most of life in general—is overstating things. This is a really good team, with a really good manager, a really good lineup, a really good defense, and three of the best pitchers in baseball. But the Cubs are a great team that’s equal or better in nearly every possible way. Chicago in six.

Thank you for reading

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This was such a fun read.
Dear Lord Baby Jesus, lying there in your...your little ghost manger, lookin' at your Bob Carpenter's baseball scorebook, just waiting for the first pitch. Please make the deciding game either a blowout or a complete game victory so I don't have to see pictures of everyone hugging Chapman for the next 30 years when we look back at this series.

Thank you.

Ricky Bobby
Cubs vs. Indians? Who da eva thunk it!
This. The only thing more just will be if the team that loses this year gets in next year and gets their second chance
I'm having trouble grasping the Schwarber add. How can he be expected to hit elite pitching after such a layoff. Wouldn't an extra pitcher make more sense?
The Cubs carried 12 pitchers against LA. The 12th being Rob Zastryzny, a lefty reliever, to match up against the lefties in LA's lineup. Zastryzny ended up not pitching in the LCS. And with the DH, the Cubs again probably won't need 12 pitchers this round. So Schwarber is replacing a pitcher who didn't pitch in the last round. To me, that's a no-brainer . The downside being minimal (you're not losing a bat and probably don't need 12 pitchers) with the upside being huge.
I guess I'm just skeptical of Schwarber getting his timing back against Kluber/Miller. I'd rather DH Contreras.

I'd love it if the big guy hits like last October, but what are the chances coming off surgery to repair two torn ligaments in his left knee and two Fall League games?
It's just a mind game by Maddon. They have to prepare for him now, they have to think about him during the game. If he gets a hit, it's a win, if he doesn't get a hit- it's bad for the Cubs, but a nice gesture of faith to bring him up. So kinda a win win.

I don't see ANY on-field benefit to doing this, besides making Tito burn a lefty reliever, and I strongly doubt they'll take Miller out of the game with Schwarber at the plate.

I'd rather have a good utility guy in case they have an extra innings game. But Maddon knows way more about his team and baseball than I do, so let's see what he has in store for him.
Very well done, Aaron. Really enjoyed this!