As the Cleveland Indians await the winner of the National League Championship Series between the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers, the 2016 World Series picture is starting to come into focus before Game 1 on October 25. 

The Indians secured their spot in the Fall Classic by defeating the Toronto Blue Jays in five games during the American League Championship Series. Andrew Miller was named MVP of the series, but Ryan Merritt’s heroics in Game 5 set up the big left-hander to get the ball to closer Cody Allen in the ninth inning. 

The Cubs offense had its breakout game against the Dodgers in Game 4 on Wednesday and will look to take control of the series on the back of Jon Lester, who has allowed nine hits and one run in 14 innings this postseason. 


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One of the things that makes sports predictions such an interesting source of discussion is the use of logic and reason with something that often defies both. 

For instance, there’s no way to explain how the Indians have made it this far. They were supposed to be eliminated in the division series by the Boston Red Sox because their starting rotation was a shell of its former self due to injuries sustained by Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco. 

Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote September 17—the day Carrasco’s pinky was broken on a liner hit by Detroit Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler—the Indians’ postseason dreams ended before they began:

Along with Corey Kluber, Carrasco and Salazar are the heart of the rotation. Carrasco and Salazar have had star-crossed seasons to be sure. They’ve each missed a month to injuries, but they still combined for 22 wins, 50 starts and just over 283 innings.

The Indians have no one of equal caliber to replace them.

Headed into the best-of-five AL Division Series, it’s going to be Kluber and Trevor Bauer. The other two starters are Josh Tomlin and rookie Mike Clevinger. That’s reality and that means a quick exit in the postseason.

No one gave the Indians that memo because their entire pitching staff has recorded three shutouts in eight playoff games, including a 3-0 victory over the Blue Jays in the ALCS clincher. 

Somehow, what was overlooked coming into the postseason was how well Cleveland manager Terry Francona utilizes his bullpen and how deep that group is. 

Miller got all of the accolades for what he did against Boston and Toronto, but Richard Justice of noted Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen have been really good too:

Since the Indians were able to clinch early, they get to line up Kluber for Game 1. Bauer’s pinky once again takes center stage, casting doubt over his ability to make at least one start in the series. 

For Cleveland fans, the best-case scenario in the NLCS would be the Cubs and Dodgers going seven games with the Dodgers winning. That would presumably push Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill back to start Games 2 and 3. 

The Cubs, who showed they do have weaknesses by not hitting in two games against Kershaw and Hill, bounced back with 10 runs in Game 4 of the NLCS. 

Just as encouraging as the deluge of runs was for Cubs fans, ESPN Stats & Info noted why it was particularly sweet for Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell when they hit their homers:

While Chicago will always panic when the Cubs don’t look good for a couple of games—ignoring the fact that those games were against the best pitcher in baseball and another guy who had a 2.12 ERA in 20 starts this season—they are still the best and deepest team in baseball. 

Even when the Cubs are in an offensive funk, Lester and Kyle Hendricks have combined to allow four runs in 23 innings this postseason. Their defense has never wavered from the historically great regular-season numbers they put up, per ESPN’s Sam Miller:

The Cubs — a team with only one Gold Glove winner on the roster, a team that shifts less than any in baseball — are better than any other club at converting ground balls into outs (80.1 percent), the best at converting fly balls into outs (94.1 percent) and the best at converting line drives into outs (43.5 percent). They do this despite allowing an exit velocity that is almost exactly league average, and an exit velocity on grounders that is harder than league average. 

No team in Major League Baseball this season had as many ways to beat an opponent as the Cubs. They will be favored over the Indians if they can get past the Dodgers and should be. It’s hard to win 103 games during the regular season by accident. 

Forget all the talk about goats and curses in Chicago. This is a franchise that’s become the model in MLB because of its young position player talent and the incredible wealth of options for manager Joe Maddon to choose from off his bench and on the pitching staff. 

The Indians’ run so far in the postseason has been wondrous to behold because of how unique it is. Since the Cleveland Cavaliers pulled off a historic comeback against the Golden State Warriors, these last four months have breathed new life into a city so often beaten down by its sports teams. 

Eventually, you would assume, Cleveland’s patchwork pitching rotation will run out of steam, negating the work of Miller and Allen in the middle and late innings. 

It’s certainly not impossible to win a World Series on the back of a bullpen—the 2015 Kansas City Royals did it—but it’s awfully hard, especially if the team on the other side of the field is the Cubs. 

Prediction: Cubs win World Series in six games

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