Chicago Cubs (Lester 19-5, 2.44) vs. Cleveland Indians (Kluber 18-9, 3.14)
8pm ET Tuesday on FOX
Two teams historically synonymous with futility have arrived at the mountaintop. The Chicago Cubs have not won a title since 1908, an unparalleled stretch in modern American sports, and haven’t even been to the Series since 1945, blaming everyone from a goat to Steve Bartman. The Cleveland Indians have been so hapless that they haven’t won a title since 1948, and had a series of hit movies made about how terrible they were. One of these two franchises will be your next World Series champion. The other will stand alone as the biggest loser in baseball history.
In a perfect world we’d get this Game 1 matchup two more times, as Jon Lester and Corey Kluber have been the best starting pitchers in this year’s playoffs. Lester has made 3 starts, giving up just 2 runs on 14 hits and 2 walks over 21 innings, leading the Cubs to wins in Game 1 of the NLDS against the Giants, and Game 1 and 5 of the NLCS against the Dodgers to win co-MVP honors. Kluber, too, has made 3 starts, allowing 2 runs on 13 hits and 7 walks while fanning 20 over 18 innings.
The Cubs come into the World Series as overwhelming favorites, having won the most games with the best run differential in the regular season, thanks to the third-highest scoring offense, the stingiest pitching staff and a historically great defense. They feature the probable NL MVP Kris Bryant at first base, three starters – Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jake Arrieta – that will finish in the top 10 in Cy Young balloting, a utility player, Javier Baez, who was co-MVP of the NLCS, and a dominant closer, Aroldis Chapman, who throws 105 and allowed an OPS+ of 24 this year. And it looks like they’re adding to their World Series roster Kyle Schwarber, their opening day left fielder, who tore his ACL in the second game of the season. You could waste a lot of time looking for this team’s weakness.
The Indians’ pitching staff had already been decimated by injuries before the playoffs started, losing two of their best starters to injuries. Then, during the American League Championship Series against Toronto, Trevor Bauer sliced open his pinkie while trying to fix his drone, and though he gamely tried to start Game 3 anyway, he started bleeding so much that he had to leave in the first inning. But the Indians have gamely marched forward, carried in the capable arms of Corey Kluber and ALCS MVP Andrew Miller. Kluber has given up just 2 runs in 18 ⅓ innings this postseason while striking out 20. Miller has been even better, hurling 11 ⅔ shutout innings while fanning 21 of the 41 batters he’s faced. The Indians have to get continued excellence from both these guys, as well as quality innings from Josh Tomlin, to have a chance of winning this thing. Danny Salazar, who’s been out since September 9, is getting added to Cleveland’s World Series roster, which could be a huge boon to their hopes. Salazar had been lights out in the first half before elbow issues began to flare up, going 10-5 with a 2.22 ERA and 107 strikeouts in just 93 ⅓ innings – if he can be anywhere near that, it could be huge, but if he’s gonna be Second-Half Salazar, with a 7.36 ERA in 44 innings over 10 starts, he should probably just stay where he is. And Bauer is slated to pitch Game 2, assuming he can stop bleeding.
The Indians’ lineup features the double-play combo of Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor, who are great on both sides of the ball, masher Mike Napoli, and underappreciated 3B Jose Ramirez. The team led the AL in stolen bases this year, swiping 134 bases at an 81% clip, speed that could come in handy against Lester, who’s notorious for his inability to throw to first, and has allowed the most stolen bases of any pitcher over the last two season, with 75.