Let’s take a look at this grand World Series matchup with the “Rule of Threes”, as baseball’s two perennial underdogs square off in what promises to be an exciting head-to-head battle between the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs.
3 Keys to the Indians Winning the World Series
- Ultimate Relief: The Indians have relied on stellar–in fact, historic–relief pitching performances to get through the middle innings and to close out playoff games. Heck, their bullpen actually pitched 8.1 innings in the Trevor Bauer “Drone Finger” game to lead the team to victory. If Cleveland is to do the unthinkable and win it all, they will have to continue to get amazing efforts from Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, in addition to the rest of their bullpen. The addition of Danny Salazar to the World Series roster could prove to play a key role as well.
- The Unsung Heroes: The Tribe made it all the way to the World Series due to a total team effort. While many of their stars (Lindor, Miller, Kluber, Allen) shined, they were catapulted to victory after victory due to unexpected clutch hits from Roberto Perez, Coco Crisp, and Lonnie Chisenhall and stellar pitching performances from Ryan Merritt and Josh Tomlin. With an inevitable three games to be played in the National League park and pitchers needing to bat, expect guys like Yan Gomes and Rajai Davis to get multiple chances to pinch hit and come through in the clutch. With more pitchers being used, expect Dan Otero and Zach McAllister to pitch key innings out of the bullpen, and the Tribe’s depth to be tested.
- Cy Kluber: Corey Kluber was brilliant against Boston and Toronto in the ALDS and ALCS, respectively. Kluber will have to be equally excellent against the National League’s most dangerous lineup if the Indians are to hoist the World Series trophy. With injuries to the starting rotation, the uncertainty of Trevor Bauer’s finger, Danny Salazar’s questionable endurance and ability returning from injury, and Ryan Merritt’s lack of experience, Kluber could legitimately pitch in three games of the Series…and be the ultimate difference maker.
3 Keys to the Cubs Winning the World Series
- Beat the Pressure: Even though the Tribe has home field advantage and hasn’t won the World Series since 1948, the pressure is on Chicago. The Cubs won 103 regular-season games and have been the hype of MLB since Spring Training. Cleveland’s injuries only add to the Cubs designation as an overwhelming favorite to win the Series…Oh, and the Cubs haven’t done that in 108 seasons! Despite their greatness, their is no middle ground: The 2016 Cubs will ultimately be judged by whether they break the curse, or add to the misery by coming so close, only to lose to a heavy underdog in Cleveland.
- The Best Depth in Baseball: With Kyle Scwarber returning from injury in heroic fashion, the Cubs will have big names like Jason Heyward potentially coming off the bench…which is tough to fathom, given his huge contract. Combine that with the stellar 4-man rotation of Lester, Arrieta, Hendricks, and Lackey, and Chicago is tough to beat. Add a 102-MPH fastball closing games (Chapman) and an experienced group of middle relievers and the Cubs virtually have no weak link.
- Dual MVP Candidates: While Kris Bryant is the likely NL MVP for 2016, Anthony Rizzo will probably earn some votes as well. This dynamic young duo can do a lot of damage to even the best of pitching staffs, so the Indians will have their hands full all the time. While the Tribe minimized the damage with Ortiz/Betts in the Boston Series and Bautista/Donaldson/Encarnacion in the Toronto Series, this Cubs tandem is about as good as it gets.
3 Underdog Bets for World Series MVP
- Jose Ramirez–30:1 MVP Odds–After watching Ramirez produce clutch hit after clutch hit all season long, it would be no surprise to Tribe fans to see J-Ram–who struggled in the ALCS–produce for the Indians and become a World Series hero. At 30:1 odds, apparently Las Vegas feels differently. I expect Ramirez to rebound in a big way for Cleveland and to be the ultimate x-factor.
- Dexter Fowler –14:1 MVP Odds–While Cleveland splits time in the leadoff spot between Carlos Santana and Rajai Davis depending upon the starting pitcher, Chicago locks Fowler in there every night. In addition to seeing the most at bats, the Cubs leadoff man is capable of stealing bases, hitting home runs, and making big plays in the outfield. Fowler can be a large difference maker and will probably play every inning of every game.
- Josh Tomlin–33:1 MVP Odds–Could Josh Tomlin play the role of Chad Ogea in the 1997 World Series? If the Indians had held on and won Game 7 in 1997 (Jose Mesa, we’ll never forgive you), then Ogea most assuredly would’ve won MVP honors that year, having won two games and contributing key hits at the plate! Tomlin–who stands a strong chance to get two starts in this World Series–would be an interesting bet, should he shock the mighty Cubs and match the strong performances he showed against Boston and Toronto.
3 Bold Predictions
- The Indians Will Prove Jon Lester is Not Invincible: Lester has been the king of the post season throughout much of his career, including dominant performances–similar to Kluber–in 2016. However, the Indians right-handed bats match up quite well against the veteran southpaw. While Lester may pile up strikeouts, I expect the Tribe offense to get to him and tally 3-4 runs off him in each of his appearances.
- Expect to See a Couple of High-Scoring Games: The Tribe bats have been very quiet in the playoffs. The Cubs bats have been befuddled at times in the playoffs. Cold weather usually means more dominant pitching. I’m throwing all of that out the window. Everything changes when the World Series starts. While there may definitely be a low-scoring 2-1 game and a 3-2 nail biter, I expect there to also be a 9-6 slug fest or two in this World Series. The Cleveland bats are due for a breakout performance and the Cubs will definitely have at least one game when their mighty offense launches two or three home run balls.
- Expect a Heart Breaker, No Matter Who You Cheer For: We’re talking about two teams who have combined to go more than a century and a half without a World Series Title. It won’t come easy for either team, and I expect to see one or two walk off wins and a six or seven-game gut-wrenching World Series, regardless of who you cheer for.
3 Final Predictions
- The Wold Series Winner: Cleveland Indians in seven
- World Series MVP: Jose Ramirez
- The Top Storylines: “109 Years and Counting…” and “2016: The Year of Cleveland”