World Series: How Cubs, Indians match up
A position-by-position look at the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians going into the World Series, starting tonight, Oct. 25, at Progressive Field:
Cubs: Anthony Rizzo. A cancer survivor and top contender for NL MVP this season, Rizzo was the first member of Chicago’s current young core to arrive, in a January 2012 trade with San Diego. Now, he’s a power-hitting staple with a patient eye in the middle of a loaded lineup. Rizzo busted out of a 2-for-26 slump by going 7 of 14 with two homers and five RBIs over the last three games of the NL Championship Series.
Indians: Mike Napoli. Pasted on T-shirts all over town, “Party at Napoli’s” has been the popular cry in Cleveland this year. And it’s no wonder. With 34 homers and 101 RBIs, the veteran slugger has been perhaps baseball’s biggest free-agent bargain after signing a $7 million, one-year contract. Napoli is a proven winner, appearing in the playoffs eight of the past 10 years.
Cubs: Javier Baez. Slick and flashy in the field, the 23-year-old Baez has become a breakout star this postseason and was co-MVP of the NLCS. Blessed with rare bat speed, he’s cut down on his big swing and strikeout rate, helping him deliver several clutch hits. Supremely confident, excellent instincts — he even stole home in the NLCS opener. Power to all fields and perhaps a future Gold Glove winner, too.
Indians: Jason Kipnis. A two-time All-Star, Kipnis grew up a huge Cubs fan outside Chicago. He’s a leader in the clubhouse who provides left-handed pop and some speed. He hit two homers in the playoffs but went 1 for 19 (.053) during the ALCS. Kipnis sprained his left ankle while celebrating after the final out of the pennant clincher in Toronto, an injury that was still bothering him on the eve of the World Series.
Edge: Indians, on track record. Cubs, on pure talent.
Cubs: Addison Russell. Another impressive youngster, the 22-year-old Russell batted .238 with 21 homers and 95 RBIs this season, his second in the majors, and was elected to start the All-Star Game along with several Cubs teammates. Russell also snapped out of a postseason skid (1 for 24) in the final three NLCS games, going 6 for 13 with two homers and four RBIs. He was obtained from Oakland when Chicago traded pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel in July 2014.
Indians: Francisco Lindor. Next in a bumper crop of gifted young infielders on display in this Series. The 22-year-old Lindor, runner-up for AL Rookie of the Year last season, can do it all — including light up a ballpark with his energy and smile. He batted .323 with two homers, two doubles and four RBIs in eight playoff games, also showing off his vast array of skills to the national audience. Cleveland drafted Lindor eighth overall in 2011 — one pick before the Cubs took Baez.
Cubs: Kris Bryant. Probably the favorite for NL MVP, the 24-year-old Bryant has delivered immediately on his promise of big power after he was drafted No. 2 overall in 2013. Last season’s NL Rookie of the Year and a two-time All-Star already, he had a .939 OPS with 39 homers and 102 RBIs this season. But he’s more than just a bopper. Also a versatile defender, Bryant runs pretty well and is a better all-around player than his profile might suggest.
Indians: Jose Ramirez. The unheralded Ramirez has been a pleasant surprise for Cleveland, filling a hole at third base with an excellent season. The switch-hitter batted .312 with 11 home runs, 46 doubles, 76 RBIs and an .825 OPS. Not to mention 22 stolen bases and his knack for clutch hits. Wow, right? Did anyone outside Ohio even notice? Ramirez was a mixed bag in the AL playoffs, going 5 for 10 with four runs against Boston but 1 for 17 vs. Toronto.
Cubs: David Ross, Willson Contreras or Miguel Montero. Longtime batterymates going back to their days in Boston, Ross is the regular catcher for Game 1 starter Jon Lester. Set to retire after this season, the graying 39-year-old is a fan favorite in Chicago, where Ross is affectionately known as Grandpa Rossy. He hit 10 homers in only 166 at-bats during a quality year at the plate and then went deep against the Giants in the NL playoffs. Contreras is an advanced right-handed hitter at age 24, and the rookie can also play left field and first base. Montero is a two-time All-Star with left-handed pop. He batted just .216 this year but caught both of Jake Arrieta’s playoff starts and delivered the third pinch-hit grand slam in postseason history, a tiebreaking shot against the Dodgers in the eighth inning of the NLCS opener.
Indians: Roberto Perez. Subbing for injured starter Yan Gomes, Perez provides strong defense behind the plate. He threw out 46 percent of attempted base stealers this season, and the Indians went 33-20 when he started. Limited to 61 games by a broken thumb, Perez batted .183 with three homers this year.
Cubs: Ben Zobrist. One of baseball’s most versatile players, Zobrist helped Kansas City win the World Series last season and then signed a $56 million, four-year contract with the Cubs. The productive switch-hitter is a three-time All-Star with a discerning eye who bats in the middle of the lineup to keep it balanced. He mostly played second base during the season but has been shifted to left field to make everyday room for Baez.
Indians: Rajai Davis or Coco Crisp. The speedy Davis was another free-agent pickup at a friendly price who played a significant role for the Indians. He hit 12 homers, scored 74 runs and led the AL with 43 steals but went hitless in 12 playoff at-bats. Crisp returned to his Cleveland roots when he was acquired from Oakland on Aug. 31, just in time to be eligible for the postseason. The 36-year-old switch-hitter finished the season with 13 homers and hit two more in the playoffs.
Cubs: Dexter Fowler. An underrated leadoff hitter, Fowler re-signed with Chicago late last offseason for $13 million in a surprise move that paid off handsomely for the Cubs. The switch-hitter compiled a career-best .393 on-base percentage and scored 84 runs in 125 games. When he gets on, the Cubs really go.
Indians: Tyler Naquin. With 14 home runs and an .886 OPS in 116 games, the 25-year-old Naquin ranked among rookie leaders in several offensive categories. A first-round draft pick in 2012 out of Texas A&M, he is 3 for 16 (.188) in the postseason with a pair of doubles.
Cubs: Jason Heyward. A major disappointment at the plate after signing with Chicago for $184 million over eight years, the three-time Gold Glove winner at least provides outstanding defense. He had a paltry .631 OPS this season and went 2 for 28 in the playoffs, dropping his career postseason batting average to .160 and occasionally leaving him on the bench.
Indians: Lonnie Chisenhall. The converted third baseman has found a home in right field, where Cleveland is happy with his defense. He batted .286 with eight homers and 57 RBIs this season, then connected for a big home run in the Division Series against Boston. Chisenhall is 10 for 30 (.333) in his postseason career.
Cubs: Kyle Schwarber. In an October shocker, the expectation is Schwarber will return from an early-season knee injury in Game 1 of the World Series. A prodigious young power hitter, Schwarber played two games in April before tearing a pair of ligaments in his left knee. He was ruled out for the year but made a rapid recovery from surgery and was cleared to play two games in the Arizona Fall League. Apparently, that was enough for the Cubs. One year removed from college, Schwarber hit 16 homers with an .842 OPS in 69 games last season. Then he hit five more home runs in the 2015 playoffs.
Indians: Carlos Santana. The unusual thing about Santana is that he’s a power hitter who bats leadoff, because of his patient approach at the plate. The switch-hitter walked 99 times this season to go with a career-high 34 homers and 87 RBIs. Santana was 5 for 29 (.172) in the playoffs but homered twice in the ALCS.
Cubs: Despite going seven decades without a pennant, Chicago has a pair of proven World Series arms in its deep rotation. Lester, co-MVP of the NLCS, won championship rings with Boston in 2007 and 2013. He is 3-0 with a 0.43 ERA in three World Series starts and will be on regular rest Tuesday night. The 32-year-old lefty went 19-5 with a 2.44 ERA this season and 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three playoff outings. Right behind him is Kyle Hendricks (16-8), who led the majors with a 2.13 ERA and beat Clayton Kershaw 5-0 with 7 1/3 innings of two-hit ball in the NLCS clincher. Arrieta (18-8), last year’s NL Cy Young Award winner, has been inconsistent in the postseason. John Lackey (11-8), who just turned 38, won Game 7 of the 2002 World Series as an Angels rookie and helped the Red Sox to their 2013 title.
Indians: Coming into the season, Cleveland had an enviable stable of young, power arms who made up one of baseball’s best rotations. That was before a string of injuries left the Indians piecing together their playoff pitching plans. Corey Kluber, the 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner, remains a workhorse at the top and will start the Series opener on two extra days of rest. He was 18-9 with a 3.14 ERA and 227 strikeouts this season. Josh Tomlin (13-9) was dropped from the rotation after going 0-5 in August but got another chance in October and delivered. He won both playoff starts with a 2.53 ERA in his first postseason. Trevor Bauer (12-8) expects to pitch after a bleeding right pinkie forced him out early in Game 3 of the ALCS. He sliced open the finger while repairing one of the drones he enjoys flying as a hobby. Rookie left-hander Ryan Merritt came through with 4 1/3 scoreless in the Game 5 clincher, his second major league start. Carlos Carrasco is out with a broken pinkie, but All-Star righty Danny Salazar, sidelined since Sept. 9 because of forearm tightness, will be on the World Series roster. It’s unclear if he will start or work out of the bullpen. So the rotation remains Cleveland’s biggest question mark.
Cubs: A midseason trade for hard-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman gave the Cubs an imposing arm in the ninth inning. He’s been summoned in the eighth on occasion during the postseason, but hasn’t exactly been lights out. Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr. and Justin Grimm offer live arms and good stuff from the right side, but aren’t always completely reliable. Left-handers Travis Wood and Mike Montgomery provide length and flexibility. There are options here. There is depth. But it’s not necessarily a dominant unit.
Indians: The team’s best weapon and biggest strength. The most powerful chess piece in this entire postseason has been Andrew Miller, the ALCS MVP acquired in July from the New York Yankees — where Chapman was his teammate. The 6-foot-7 lefty with the wipeout slider has struck out 21 over 11 2/3 scoreless innings after going 10-1 with a 1.45 ERA while striking out 14.9 batters per nine innings this year. The way Cleveland utilizes him, Miller starts looming by the middle innings and becomes an option in almost any high-leverage situation. He entered as early as the fifth during the AL playoffs. Not to be forgotten are closer Cody Allen (32 saves) and steady right-hander Bryan Shaw. And when Bauer was removed in the first inning, Dan Otero, Jeff Manship and Zach McAllister helped the relievers rack up 25 outs in a Game 3 win during the ALCS. With a 1.67 ERA in 32 1/3 playoff innings, the bullpen is a big reason Cleveland has thrown three shutouts this postseason. And if the Indians win the World Series, this group will likely rank among the greatest October bullpens in baseball history.
Cubs: Plenty of options for a team that thrives on versatility, flexibility and depth. Montero and Contreras came through with huge pinch hits in the playoffs. Chris Coghlan is an experienced left-handed hitter who can play the infield and outfield. From the right side, Jorge Soler has power and Albert Almora Jr. brings fine defense. A healthy Schwarber would obviously add a very dangerous bat to the mix.
Indians: This unit would probably be deeper if not for an injury to All-Star Michael Brantley and drug suspensions for fellow outfielders Abraham Almonte and Marlon Byrd. Davis, Crisp or Naquin will likely be on the bench, offering speed and some pop. Davis and Crisp have plenty of experience, too. Brandon Guyer, obtained at the Aug. 1 trade deadline from Tampa Bay, can provide punch against left-handed pitching.
Cubs: Joe Maddon. A popular free spirit who led the Rays and Cubs out of the doldrums, Maddon is a three-time Manager of the Year with a philosophical approach. He wants his players to have fun and he thinks outside the box. He’s shown a quick hook with starting pitchers in October and has been accused of overmanaging. Maddon lost in his only previous trip to the World Series, in 2008 with Tampa Bay.
Indians: Terry Francona. After winning two World Series titles in Boston, ending an 86-year drought and overcoming a 3-0 ALCS deficit to the Yankees along the way, Francona is building a Hall of Fame resume. He has a deft touch — especially in October — and this year’s run with the injury-riddled Indians could become his masterpiece. Francona has an excellent feel for his players and knows how to take pressure off them. His aggressive, unconventional use of Miller and the rest of that brilliant bullpen is a huge reason the Indians are here.
Pick: Cubs in 6.