In less than two weeks, a combined 176 years of waiting will end, as either the Chicago Cubs or Cleveland Indians will be crowned World Series champions.

Having the Fall Classic begin at Progressive Field on the same night the Cleveland Cavaliers hoist their 2015-16 NBA championship banner at Quicken Loans Arena next door might seem like a mistake by the lake, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone complaining about the traffic.

That’ll be especially true if the Indians win.

How important is taking Game 1 of the World Series? Over the past 10 editions of the Fall Classic, the team that emerged victorious in the first contest went on to win it all nine times.

Only the New York Yankees, who lost Game 1 of the 2009 World Series to the Philadelphia Phillies, 6-1, bounced back from the initial loss. They took four of the Fall Classic’s next five games to clinch the franchise’s 27th World Series crown.

What follows is a look at the keys for each team to emerge victorious in the series-opening clash, which pits Cleveland’s Corey Kluber (18-9, 3.14 ERA) against Chicago’s Jon Lester (19-5, 2.44 ERA).


Indians: Be Aggressive on the Bases

It’s hard enough to get on base when Lester is on the mound, but if the Indians do, they’re in excellent shape to exploit the issues Chicago’s ace has throwing to first base, which have been well-documented.

Only two starters—New York’s Noah Syndergaard (48) and Milwaukee’s Jimmy Nelson (30)—allowed more stolen bases than Lester’s 28.

“We don’t have to steal bases to be a good baserunning team,” Indians manager Terry Francona told’s Jordan Bastian before Game 1 of their American League Division Series against the Boston Red Sox. “I think that’s one of our strengths, and I think it will continue.”

While the Indians didn’t need to take off running in their three-game sweep of the Red Sox—the Tribe went 1-for-2 on stolen-base attempts in the ALDS—expect that to change in Game 1 of the World Series.

Whether it’s swiping a bag once they get on or taking an extra base on a ball hit into the outfield gaps, an aggressive approach on the basepaths will serve Cleveland well.


Cubs: Be Patient and Don’t Expand the Strike Zone

Like Lester, Kluber is a true workhorse, a battle-tested ace and a perennial Cy Young Award candidate. Translation: He’s really, really good at this pitching thing.

Only four current Cubs have ever reached base against Cleveland’s ace, and one of them—Chris Coghlan—could be left off Chicago’s World Series roster to make room for Kyle Schwarber, who is expected to serve as the team’s designated hitter after missing all but two games in 2016 with a knee injury.

All that helps to explain this, which comes with the following disclaimer: These numbers are scarier than any Halloween costume you’ll see next week:

While those are based on small sample sizes—only Ben Zobrist has had at least 10 at-bats (13) against Kluber from his time in the American League—the numbers are telling nonetheless.

Nearly 44 percent of the time these Cubs have faced Kluber, they’ve struck out. That includes five whiffs in seven at-bats—a whiff rate of more than 70 percent—for Dexter Fowler, the catalyst atop the lineup. The Cubs need a far better showing from him in Game 1.

Kluber loves to work away from right-handed batters, making them chase pitches out of the strike zone, while he jams left-handers low-and-inside. If he’s throwing his slider to a left-handed hitter, odds are the pitch will wind up right near the batter’s back foot. Good luck making solid contact with that.

If the Cubs are to have any success against Kluber, they’ll have to lay off those pitches and wait for one over the plate. Force Kluber to throw strikes.


Both Teams: Score First

It’s a simple premise. One that, on the surface, might seem too simple to include as a key in the biggest game that either franchise has played in more than a decade. But it’s also a premise based in clear, indisputable fact.

Per Sports Illustrated‘s Tom Verducci: “Teams that score first this postseason win 70.4 percent of the time, including 100 percent of the time in the League Championship Series (10-0).”

That makes getting on the board first kind of a big deal, no?

We aren’t likely to see a slugfest with Lester and Kluber on the mound. And while the Indians have the deeper bullpen, both teams have the late-inning relief needed to hold on to any lead.

In a contest in which one run could be the difference between winning and losing—and, realistically, perhaps the only run on the board for either team—scoring first takes on a new level of importance.


Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of

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