A question for the Cleveland Indians: You didn’t think it was going to be that easy, did you?

Actually, it’s understandable if they thought winning their first World Series since 1948 would be that easy. After all, the Indians encountered little resistance in winning seven of eight games against the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays to get to the World Series. When they won Game 1 on Tuesday, they put themselves on a path that usually leads to victory.

But that path has hit a bump, and the territory immediately beyond is rougher than any the Indians have encountered this October.

The Chicago Cubs are on the board. After going silent at the hands of Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen in a 6-0 loss in Game 1, the Cubs broke out their bats against Trevor Bauer and the supporting cast of Cleveland’s pitching staff in Game 2 and let Jake Arrieta and their bullpen do the rest.

It took over four hours, but the Cubs left Progressive Field on Wednesday with a 5-1 win that tied the series.

The series resumes with Game 3 at Wrigley Field at 8 p.m. ET on Friday. That gives the Indians a day to assess their standing.

It could be worse. Per ESPN Stats & Info, teams that have won the first game in the World Series have gone on to win the whole thing 24 times in the last 28 series.

But things could also be better. The latest odds at FanGraphs and FiveThirtyEight give the Cubs a 61-62 percent chance to win the series. Looking at how things are shaping up heading back to Chicago, that seems accurate.

After the Indians raised hell in Game 1, Game 2 was a reminder of why the Cubs won 103 games in the regular season. In particular, they made a statement with an offensive attack so relentless that even Tribe manager Terry Francona knows it probably should have produced more than five runs.

“Yeah, we gave up nine hits, eight walks, two errors, and we only gave up five runs,” he said in his postgame presser, via MLB.com. “We’re probably pretty fortunate because there was traffic all night. For us to win, we generally need to play a clean game, and we didn’t do that.”

It didn’t help that Arrieta gave the Tribe little room for error when he had the ball. After Jon Lester struggled in Game 1, Arrieta proved how absurd it is that he’s not the No. 1 starter in Chicago’s rotation by taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning before yielding to Mike Montgomery and Aroldis Chapman.

The one run the Indians scored in Game 2 came home on a wild pitch. This is after two runs came home in Game 1 on an infield trickler and a hit-by-pitch. So outside of Roberto Perez’s two home runs in Game 1, Cleveland’s offense has been generally ineffective in this series.

Offense won’t get easier to find after the move to the National League theater of this conflict. The loss of the designated hitter takes away Francona’s usual spot for Carlos Santana. That will limit one of Cleveland’s best hitters to a pinch-hitting role.

In theory, the trade-off will be the newly revived Kyle Schwarber being moved to Chicago’s bench. But per Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post, Cubs skipper Joe Maddon hasn’t ruled out testing Schwarber’s surgically repaired left knee with outfield duty:

This could create even more pressure for Cleveland’s pitchers. Josh Tomlin isn’t incapable of answering the call in Game 3, but he could need help from Miller and Allen. If he needs a lot of help from them, that could compromise their availability for Games 4 and 5 on Saturday and Sunday.

Oh, and any strong run-prevention effort could be for naught anyway in Game 3. Kyle Hendricks could see to that. 

He looked every bit like the pitcher who led baseball with a 2.13 ERA the last time he took the ball in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, facing the minimum number of batters through 7.1 innings. Cue some hard-hitting analysis: He’s really good.

Regardless of what happens in Game 3, Francona will then be playing not one, not two, but three wild cards with his starting rotation. He announced ahead of Game 2 that Kluber will start on three days’ rest in Game 4. While it’s not yet official, that would mean Bauer on short rest in Game 5 and, if necessary, Tomlin on short rest in Game 6.

Francona didn’t have much choice, of course. It was either this or a plan involving some combination of Ryan Merritt and Danny Salazar in Game 4. Francona isn’t wrong to want to restart the rotation of his best guys instead.

Still, you just never know with starters on short rest.

Even Kluber didn’t look as sharp on short rest in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series. He may not be any sharper in Game 4 of the World Series. Meanwhile, less sharp versions of Bauer (who’s wild to begin with) and Tomlin (who has hittable stuff) would not bode well for Cleveland in Games 5 and 6.

And once again, you worry about the bullpen equation with Kluber, Bauer and Tomlin on short rest.

Good work from the starters would allow Miller and Allen to continue cleaning up. They each have a 0.00 ERA this postseason. Not-so-good work from the starters would put the ball in the court of Cleveland’s other relievers. They have a 4.21 ERA this postseason.

If there’s a reason for optimism in all this, it could be that Cleveland’s loss in Game 2 was a case of a bad matchup.

It seemed the Indians couldn’t do anything with Arrieta not because he was at his best, but because he was unpredictable. His stuff and his location were all over the place, making him effectively wild. The Indians have done better against traditional strike-throwers this October, aggressively attacking and punishing guys like Rick Porcello, David Price, Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ and, most recently, Lester.

As bad as it looks on paper, their matchup against Hendricks and his pinpoint command in Game 3 thus could turn out to be just what the Indians need to get back on track. They’ll face another strike-thrower in John Lackey in Game 4, and then things will turn back over to Lester for Game 5.

Speaking on a more general level, there’s also that nagging suspicion that the Indians are perfect for the underdog role they now find themselves in.

They play a scrappy, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink style of baseball that’s reminiscent of the Kansas City Royals. It’s proven to be a handful even for supposed superteams. And while they’re not always available, their biggest weapons—looking at you, Kluber, Miller and Allen—haven’t yet misfired when they’ve been used.

They’re facing their first big test of the postseason, all right. That doesn’t mean they can’t still ace it.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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