The Indians' infield (their offense as a whole, really) has not been particularly good in these playoffs. First baseman Mike Napoli has become a fan favorite in Cleveland after a 34-HR season and starting the #PartyAtNapolis craze. He's started slow in October, though, hitting just .179 with a home run and 2 RBIs. If he can get hot, he's very dangerous, but he's been unable to string anything together this postseason. After a very good ALDS against the Red Sox where he hit .364, second baseman Jason Kipnis, another fan favorite, cooled off a significant amount in the ALCS. He went just 1-19 (with that one hit being a home run), which translates to a .053 average. Similarly to Kipnis, third baseman Jose Ramirez had a hot ALDS (.500 batting average, 4 runs), but iced over in the ALCS, with an RBI single standing alone as his only hit in 17 at-bats. Last but not least, shortstop Francisco Lindor has had a different trajectory than his teammates in the infield: After hitting .250 with a solo home run in the ALDS, Lindor picked it up in the ALCS, hitting .368 with a home run and 3 RBIs.
When the Indians' infield is firing on all cylinders, they can be just as dangerous as the Cubs. However, I don't see all of them putting it together in the same way that the Cubs should be able to. ADVANTAGE: Cubs.
The Cubs have one of the deepest outfields in baseball. Between Zobrist, Dexter Fowler, Jason Heyward, Jorge Soler, and the return of Kyle Scwarber from his ACL injury, they have a sort of embarrassment of riches. What the team has been doing for most of this postseason has been starting Zobrist in left field, Fowler in center, and Heyward in right, with Soler starting the occasional game to provide more offensive pop. Fowler was also an all-star starter who started on the slow side in the NLDS, posting a .133 batting average, but then picking it up in the NLDS by hitting .333 from the leadoff spot. Zobrist has yet to find his stroke this postseason, hitting just .169 overall with no one series better than the other. The Cubs aren't totally reliant on Zobrist's bat because of the talent of their other hitters, but he could be a great help in the middle of the lineup. Heyward has been downright abysmal in both series leading up to the World Series. He's hitting .073 overall, and really not showing signs of improving all that much at the plate. He is great on defense, though, and Cubs manager Joe Maddon sees that as reason enough to keep him in the lineup in the eighth spot. However, you have to wonder when being so terrible on offense completely eclipses being a great fielder and Soler, a bona fide slugger, will get the opportunity to start more games.
The Indians' outfield is less star-studded than the Cubs. They trot out Lonnie Chisenhall (.269 BA, 1 HR, 4 RBI this postseason) in right, Tyler Naquin (.188 playoff BA), and a combination of Rajai Davis (hitless in 12 playoff at bats) and Brandon Guyer (3-8 in this postseason). This is certainly not a flashy group, and they almost definitely won't outplay the Cubs' outfield. However, if they play more similarly to the way they did in the regular season, they could be a huge help to a Cleveland championship push. It will also be interesting to see how Indians manager Terry Francona divides time up between Davis, the incumbent starter, and Guyer, the current hot hand. Francona is definitely not a traditional manager, especially when it comes to the playoffs, so I think we're going to see more Guyer than we've seen in the two previous series.
When it comes down to it, the Cubs' outfield is just more talented than the Indians. I see the Cubs outfielders, specifically Schwarber at DH during the games in Cleveland, playing an important role in this series. ADVANTAGE: Cubs.
Believe it or not, the Cubs have depth at the catcher position as well. The current hot hand is rookie Willson Contreras, who's batting .400 this postseason. Besides Contreras, the Cubs have Miguel Montero, whose one hit in these playoffs was the grand slam that won Game One of the NLCS for the Cubs, and David Ross, the seasoned veteran (to say the least) who catches primarily for Game One starter Jon Lester. Other than Contreras at the moment, the Cubs catchers aren't exactly on fire at the plate: Montero is 1-8 this postseason, while Ross is 2-11. Luckily for the Cubs, they don't have to rely on their catchers for offense for very much and can rely on them to call good games for their pitchers.
The Indians typically start Roberto Perez behind the plate. Perez is not a fearsome hitter by any means: he hit .183 in the regular season and is only at a .174 clip in the playoffs. Perez's impact is felt defensively, however, and the Indians pitching staff loves him. Perez is backed up by Yan Gomes, who's 2-4 in the playoffs after hitting .167 in 74 games this year.
No one really has a distinct advantage here. Both teams boast defensive-minded catchers that are below-average hitters. ADVANTAGE: Push.
The Cubs boast one of, if not the strongest starting rotations in baseball. Their World Series rotation looks like this: Jon Lester (19-5, 2.44 ERA regular season, 2-0, 0.86 ERA this postseason, Cy Young award candidate), Jake Arrieta (18-8, 3.10 ERA postseason, 0-1, 4.91 ERA this postseason, reigning Cy Young award winner), Kyle Hendricks (16-8, 2.13 ERA regular season, 1-1, 1.65 ERA this postseason, NL ERA leader), and John Lackey (11-8, 3.35 ERA regular season, 8-5, 3.26 ERA all-time in the playoffs, horse face). Those four rolling one after the other is straight-up scary. Theo Epstein has done a great job of building this team, and the rotation might be the crown jewel, which is really saying something.
The Indians rotation is scary as well. They boast Corey Kluber (18-9, 3.14 ERA regular season, 2-1, 0.98 ERA this postseason), Josh Tomlin (13-9, 4.40 ERA regular season, 2-0, 2.53 ERA this postseason), Trevor Bauer (12-8, 4.26 ERA, 0-0, 5.06 ERA this postseason, may not berecovered from cutting his finger open on his drone in time for Game Three), and Danny Salazar (11-6, 3.87 ERA regular season), who's returning from a forearm injury after missing the whole playoffs up until this point. There's a reason the Indians have won 7 of the 8 playoff games that they've played, and pitching is the number one reason.
Both teams have great rotations, but again, the Cubs are too deep to deny. Look for pitcher's duels in the early matchups, while offense starts to reign supreme later as we get further into the rotations. ADVANTAGE: Cubs.
The Chicago bullpen is headlined by fireball-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman. Chapman was an in-season acquisition from the Yankees, and has posted a 1-0 record with a 3.38 ERA and 3 saves in 5 opportunities in these playoffs. He's been shaky in these playoffs, but when he's on, he is ON. He throws upwards of 100 MPH with ease, and can blow hitters away with that speed. Other bullpen standouts for the Cubs include Hector Rondon (3.53 regular season ERA in 54 games), who closed out games before the Chapman trade, and Travis Wood (2.95 ERA in 77 regular season games). Despite being an overall solid unit, the bullpen is probably the weakest part of this Cubs team.
The Indians' bullpen has been the main reason they've thrived in these playoffs. Middle reliever Andrew Miller has been absolutely lights out in October, refusing to allow a single run in 11.2 innings of work. Closer Cody Allen has also shut out the opposing team every time he has pitched this postseason, going 5 for 5 in save opportunities. Bryan Shaw has been shaky out of the bullpen in these playoffs, but has posted a 2.38 ERA in his playoff career. Francona isn't afraid to turn to the bullpen early, and it's paid off dividends for him.
The Indians' strong relief pitching has been a huge benefit for them in the last two series; they've essentially been able to cut games down to six or seven innings because their relievers don't allow any runs. The Cubs' unit is not bad, but the Indians have a leg up here. Advantage: Indians.
The Cubs take the series in five games. The heart of their lineup is starting to get hot at exactly the right time, and their starting pitching is great. The Indians' home field advantage backfires, as it allows Kyle Schwarber to come back to an already excellent lineup. The Cubs will drop Lackey's game, but other than that, it will be smooth sailing for the Cubs. Cleveland goes back to being the city of losers. Cubs win the World Series, 4-1.