It’s finally here! The World Series kicks off tonight with Game 1, and two long-storied franchises with histories of futility and new-school front offices will face off. There’s narrative aplenty here–if you want more on that, check out Aaron Gleeman’s overall, seven-game series preview, breaking things down from every angle–but now it’s time to talk up the primary actors for Game 1. That starts with the two ace starting pitchers: Corey Kluber and Jon Lester.

Chicago Cubs (Jon Lester) at Cleveland Indians (Corey Kluber), 8:00 PM ET

PECOTA odds of winning: 51% Indians, 49% Cubs

Projected Starting Lineups

Cubs vs. Kluber (R)

Indians vs. Lester (L)

Dexter Fowler (S), CF

Rajai Davis (R), CF

Kris Bryant (R), 3B

Jason Kipnis (L), 2B

Anthony Rizzo (L), 1B

Francisco Lindor (S), SS

Ben Zobrist (S), LF

Mike Napoli (R), 1B

Javier Baez (R), 2B

Carlos Santana (S), DH

Kyle Schwarber (L), DH

Jose Ramirez (S), 3B

Addison Russell (R), SS

Brandon Guyer (R), LF

Jason Heyward (L), RF

Lonnie Chisenhall (L), RF

David Ross (R), C

Roberto Perez (R), C


Since it’s the beginning of a series, the most important injuries to talk about are the guys coming back, rather than the ones who’re recently injured. For the Cubs, that’s Kyle Schwarber. For the Indians, that’s Danny Salazar. Salazar’s easy, because I’d expect that he’s not playing in Game 1. The Indians will want to hold him for later in the series–perhaps as the Game 4 starter, perhaps as a bullpen arm. Don’t look for him here.

Schwarber, on the other hand, matters tonight. Word on the street is that he’ll be the team’s designated hitter starting in Game 1 against the right-handed Kluber. That’s probably some kind of upgrade over Chris Coghlan as the team’s DH, but what kind of upgrade is still up in the air. After his electric 2015 postseason (.333/.419/.889!), the Wrigley faithful might be expecting bomb after bomb from Schwarbs, despite his only playing two games in 2016.

All he did was draw a walk in his Arizona Fall League tune-up, so it remains to be seen whether or not the neckless wonder is recovered enough from his ACL surgery to be an offensive weapon. If he is, that changes the calculus of this game dramatically, as the Cubs were a much better offensive team against left-handers than right-handers in 2016. An additional anti-Kluber weapon could make all the difference against a righty-heavy Cleveland team.

Everyone else in this matchup should be fresh, with Cleveland just a bit fresher. I’d expect quick hooks, especially on the Cleveland side. The trouble with the Cubs going to the ‘pen early is that three of the Indians’ best hitters–Lindor, Santana, and Ramirez–can just flip to the other side of the plate for matchups. If the back end of the Cleveland bullpen uses their rest days to be even more lockdown than usual, look out.


Can I channel my inner Stephen A. Smith for just a moment?

“It is absolutely, positively too early in the series to call any game a “must-win.” HOW-EV-ER! This game might be a must-win for Cleveland. Something, something, LeBron … James!”

There’s PECOTA, there are the pundits … there’s just a lot of evidence that the Cubs are the superior team on paper. Aside from all the rational logic stating that the Cubs are simply one of the best teams of the decade and both an offensive and defensive force, there is so much narrative weight behind Chicago. Theo Epstein’s out to break another curse! Schwarber’s flying to Cleveland just in time to be the hero! 1908! Yet again, Cleveland is an underdog team from an underdog town, trying to make a comeback before the series even starts.

There is probably no more winnable game this series than Game 1 in Cleveland. We have to talk, at least a little, about Jon Lester and his bizarre yips affliction, which Matthew Trueblood covered in greater depth. He’s got well-documented issues throwing to first base and Rajai Davis could be the Dave Roberts of 2016. Rajai has had an awful postseason so far: he’s 0-fer in the playoffs, but did manage a steal on lefty J.A. Happ during the ALCS. It’s likely that the Indians will lean on him as the team’s leadoff hitter.

With Lester’s well-documented issues throwing to first base and Cleveland’s propensity to run, it is very possible that if Davis can reach on the first plate appearance of the game, he’ll be standing on second with no outs before the Cubs can even blink. Cleveland also possesses solid baserunners in Lindor, Kipnis, Ramirez, and Coco Crisp. There’s probably no better AL team to run wild on Lester than this Indians squad.

The Indians also might not need that much additional help to push the advantage. Cleveland hit southpaws pretty well in 2016–they were a middle-of-the-pack offense (.330 OBP, .449 SLG) against lefties, and they stole more bases against left-handed pitchers than any team other than the freewheeling Brewers. They didn’t hit enough homers–just 43–against left-handers, so that’ll mean dealing with the vaunted Cubs defense, which could be a struggle.

Meanwhile, the Cubs aren’t the same offensive juggernaut against right-handed pitchers (.338 OBP, .421 SLG) that they were against lefties. Of course, all the best pitchers on the Indians’ staff are right-handers–sorry, Ryan Merritt–with the exception of fireman Andrew Miller, who defies both splits and expectations with his murderous slider.

No, it’s not a must-win game. But given the Cubs’ rather obvious superiority on paper, this game could well be a bellwether for the rest of the series. It’s possible that with the left-handed starter, the Indians’ ability to take advantage of the veteran lefty’s problems with baserunners, and their home-field advantage, the Indians will never have a better shot at beating the Cubs in a single game than they do tonight. PECOTA (and America) may not be giving Cleveland a fighting chance over the long term, but if the Indians can win Game 1, I’d have a much more positive outlook over the life of this series.

Thank you for reading

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Coghlan in RF, not Heyward.
That's what happens when you post this well before lineups are announced! I assumed, incorrectly, that Maddon would prefer to have Coghlan's left-handed bat off the bench, rather than Heyward's.