In case you haven’t noticed, the National League representative in the World Series is getting slightly more attention than the American League representative. Not only are the Cubs the heavy favorites among bettors, they’re the heavy favorites in terms of the general population.
However, the Indians didn’t get here by accident and they aren’t going to listen to the hype. In fact, the Fighting Franconas are quite confident they’ll come out ahead. And they have several things working in their favor:
They have home-field advantage
Although the Indians finished the regular season with nine fewer wins than the Cubs, Games 1 and 2 (and 6 and 7, if necessary) will be at Progressive Field. That’s because the American League won the All-Star Game; in fact, Corey Kluber was the winning pitcher and Andrew Miller tossed two-thirds of an inning (as a Yankee) in the Midsummer Classic.
Only the Cubs had more home wins than the Indians this season, and Cleveland hasn’t lost at home yet this postseason.
They’ve lost once in the past month
Cleveland’s last regular-season loss was on Sept. 28, and its only postseason loss was Game 4 in Toronto. Other than that, the Indians steamrolled their way through the Red Sox and Blue Jays, despite being considered by most to be underdogs against both AL East squads.
Cleveland is getting outstanding pitching, timely hitting and strong defense, and that’s the classic formula for playoff wins. And speaking of winning, Terry Francona is 8-0 in the World Series.
They are threats on the basepaths
The Indians led the AL and were fourth in the majors in stolen bases (134) this season, and they’ve swiped three in eight playoff games. During the regular season, the Cubs threw out only 22.2 percent of basestealers (25th in the majors), and they’ve caught just two of 11 in the playoffs.
Although the Dodgers tried to take advantage of Jon Lester’s pickoff issues and even Jake Arrieta’s inability to hold runners, they stole only 45 bases during the regular season. Indians outfielder Rajai Davis stole 43 by himself, and even Mike Napoli can catch the opposition sleeping.
Cleveland also is aggressive when it comes to taking the extra bases, but the key will be getting on base. The Indians had just a .215 on-base percentage in the ALCS.
They have the better bullpen
Andrew Miller has been so dominant that it’s considered an anomaly when a hitter manages to make contact for an out. What he’s doing this postseason is historic, with 21 strikeouts in 11 2/3 innings.
But although it seems like he is getting every key out from the fifth inning on, Miller has had some help. Cody Allen has yet to allow a run while fanning 12 in 7 2/3 innings, and Bryan Shaw has been effective for the most part. Now the Tribe have an interesting wild card in the returning Danny Salazar.
They have their own ace and young stars
That’s right, the Cubs haven’t developed and acquired all of the good players. Corey Kluber has tossed 18 1/3 innings of two-run ball this postseason, striking out 20. And given the uncertain state of the Indians’ rotation, it’s not crazy to envision Kluber starting Games 1, 4 and 7 if the circumstances warrant it.
Meanwhile, Cleveland has perhaps the majors’ best young position player in shortstop Francisco Lindor (22 years old), arguably the game’s most underrated player in third baseman Jose Ramirez (24) and an AL Rookie of the Year candidate in outfielder Tyler Naquin (25).