Cubs. Indians. World Series. It’s the baseball version of the apocalypse (and you can watch Game 1 here). Assuming the world doesn’t end before a winner is crowned, one championship drought will end this year as old pals Terry Francona and Theo Epstein try to repeat their feat from their days with the Red Sox. And then we’ll find out whether the losing team’s fan base’s despair will be greater than the winner’s ecstasy.
So, will it be Chicago or Cleveland? These seven questions just might reveal the answer:
Will Indians be able to run?
It’s arguably the Indians’ biggest advantage in this series, but as Cubs Game 2 starter Jake Arrieta said Monday, you can’t steal first base. And despite the Cleveland’s near-perfect postseason, the offense has just done just enough to get by. The Indians’ .168/.215/.329 slash line in the ALCS hardly resembles that of a team that advanced in five games, and things won’t get easier against the Cubs’ rotation.
Cleveland’s 134 stolen bases led the AL, and Chicago has struggled to control the opposition’s running game. But the Indians have to create opportunities. Working against them: Jason Kipnis’ ankle injury could limit him on the bases, and Rajai Davis, who swiped 43 bags this season, is hitless this postseason.
Which surprise addition will provide more production?
Right-hander Danny Salazar is back from a forearm injury and likely will be used in relief -- perhaps to piggy-back Ryan Merritt -- though there’s a chance he could make a start. Salazar last threw a pitch in game action on Sept. 9, so rust will be an issue.
And then there’s Kyle Schwarber, whose season was believed to be over until just a few days ago. But he impressed Cubs officials enough during a brief stint in the Arizona Fall League to earn consideration as a DH/pinch hitter. Schwarber’s power makes him a threat, but he hasn’t faced major-league pitching since tearing his ACL on April 7.
Is Jason Heyward going to bring his bat?
The $184 million man was benched twice in the NLCS, including the decisive Game 6. After a miserable regular season, the hope was that Heyward would excel with a clean slate in October. Instead, he’s somehow managed to regress to the tune of 2-for-28 with eight strikeouts and one RBI – two fewer RBI than Jake Arrieta and one fewer than Kyle Hendricks.
Joe Maddon is reluctant to sit Heyward too often because of his strong defense in right field, but Chicago can’t lower its expectations enough to merely hope that Heyward lays down a good bunt or lucks into a hit by pitch.
Will the Indians’ rotation hold up?
The lasting image of the ALCS for many will be the blood spurting from Trevor Bauer’s finger in the first inning of Game 3. Will the cut stay closed in the World Series? Rookie Ryan Merritt earned reserved himself a spot in Indians lore with his unreal outing in Game 5, but can he do it again?
Josh Tomlin stepped up when he has been needed the most, but will he revert to the guy who posted a 4.40 ERA and 4.88 FIP in the regular season. And Danny Salazar is the ultimate unknown in terms of his effectiveness and his role.
Corey Kluber is an ace, but it remains to be seen if the rest of Cleveland’s rotation can neutralize the Cubs’ bats the way they did the Red Sox’s and Blue Jays’. If the starters can’t keep it close, uber-reliever Andrew Miller will be far less impactful.
Can Aroldis Chapman do an Andrew Miller impersonation?
The Giants rallied against the Cuban Missile in Game 4 of the NLDS, and the Dodgers did the same in Game 1 of the NLCS. The Indians won't view him as invincible.
Also noteworthy in Chapman’s NLCS performance was that he struck out only three batters in 4 2/3 innings -- while also walking three. This isn’t a guy known for pitching to contact, and it’s fair to wonder if the extended postseason outings are taking a toll. Conversely, Miller has thrived when asked to throw multiple innings, regardless of which innings they are.
Setup men Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Mike Montgomery have disappointed, putting more pressure on Chapman to dominate.
Which Jake Arrieta will show up?
The reigning NL Cy Young Award winner had a strong start (six innings, two earned runs) in Game 3 against the Giants, then a forgettable outing (five innings, four earned runs, two homers allowed) in Game 3 against the Dodgers. Although it’s encouraging that Arrieta has walked just one batter this postseason, the Cubs need him to pitch deeper into games.
Because rotation mates Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks appear unbeatable, Arrieta, who will start Game 2, can put the Cubs in a tremendous position with a gem of his own.
Can the Indians continue to count on the long ball?
Cleveland’s offense isn’t clicking, but it’s still crushing. Cleveland went deep five times in the ALDS and six more times in the ALCS – and has hit just one fewer homer than Chicago this postseason despite playing three fewer games.
It’s a nice security blanket when manufacturing runs isn’t working, but only five teams allowed fewer homers than the Cubs during the 2016 regular season. And if the wind is blowing out at Wrigley Field for the Indians, it’ll be blowing out for the Cubs, too.