The Indians literally couldn't have scripted Game 1 better: They got the early lead by disrupting Jon Lester on the basepaths, Corey Kluber pitched a gem, Andrew Miller kept it scoreless and Cody Allen slammed the door. It's the same formula that has resulted in their 8-1 record this postseason.
But as important as it was for Cleveland to capture Game 1, it's even more vital that it takes Game 2. Here's why:
The Indians' rotation is entering murky territory
Corey Kluber was as dominant as the Indians could have hoped for in Game 1, but now we're getting into a bit of a gray area.
The last time we saw Game 2 starter Trevor Bauer on a mound, he was staining it with his blood. Game 3 starter Josh Tomlin has outperformed his regular-season metrics this postseason, and the possible piggyback of Ryan Merritt/Danny Salazar -- if Cleveland resists the urge to start Kluber in Game 4 -- remains the ultimate unknown.
Bauer was sensational earlier this season, posting a 3.02 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and an 8.2 K/9 ratio through July 1 (before fading badly in the second half). But he's as unpredictable as his suture.
Cleveland can't afford to lose home-field advantage
The Indians had MLB's second-best home winning percentage during the regular season and are unbeaten at Progressive Field in the playoffs. It truly is an advantage.
However, the team with the best home winning percentage this season is sitting in the opposite dugout. The Cubs were 57-24 at Wrigley Field in the regular season and their only postseason loss at home came courtesy of Clayton Kershaw.
If the Indians head to Chicago tied at a game apiece, there's a real chance the series might not return to Cleveland.
Kyle Hendricks is lurking in Game 3
The Cubs pushed back the majors' ERA leader to Game 3 so he could start at Wrigley, where he posted a 1.32 ERA – the lowest of any qualified starter this season. It’s also where Hendricks just had the best start of his career in the win to eliminate the Dodgers in the NLCS. At this point, Hendricks at Wrigley feels like as much of a sure thing as Corey Kluber at Progressive.
Similarly, Cubs Game 4 starter John Lackey was much more effective at the Friendly Confines, where his ERA (2.62) was nearly two runs better than on the road (4.37).
So, pouncing on a struggling Jake Arrieta in Game 2 is a much more favorable approach and would provide Cleveland with a nice 2-0 cushion.
Andrew Miler and Co. aren't elastic
The built-in off days, a rainout and two short series – the Indians swept the ALDS and ended the ALCS in five games – have allowed Terry Francona to extend his relievers without completely taxing them. However, the bullpen will need some rest during the upcoming three consecutive games in Chicago.
Andrew Miller showed some signs of fatigue in Game 1 before escaping a bases-load, no-out jam in the seventh inning and a two-on, two-out situation in the eighth against the Cubs. Cleveland can’t ride Miller (46 pitches Tuesday) and Cody Allen like that in Games 3, 4 and 5.
Jon Lester isn't going to throw another clunker
Lester's first-inning problems in Game 1 were very uncharacteristic, and likely fueled by his concern over the Indians' baserunners.
Cleveland can’t bank on another inning from Lester that features two walks, two hits and a hit batter. In fact, Lester had allowed two earned in 21 innings this entire postseason prior to Tuesday night.
The Indians solved him once but can't expect that to be the case when they face him again in Game 5; Lester has just become too strong of a big-game pitcher.