Enough has been written about the adversity the Cleveland Indians have inexplicably overcome on their way to the franchise’s first World Series appearance since 1997. About how the team made it this far without slugger Michael Brantley. About how the rotation has stayed alive despite the losses of Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco. About how the Tribe sent two of the most intimidating lineups in the American League quietly into the offseason.
Re-reading all of this, it’s still difficult to believe the Indians will host Game 1 of the World Series tonight. A team which has been written off at least a dozen times this year, both before the postseason and during it, is now four wins away from the city’s second championship of the calendar year.
Obviously, said task won’t be easy, especially since the Indians are facing the best team in baseball. While the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays presented numerous challenges, the ante will be upped even further by the Chicago Cubs. In order for Cleveland to end its 68-year World Series drought, it has to beat the 103-win behemoth from the Windy City.
It goes without saying the Indians will need to continue doing what they’ve done to get this far – rely on an outstanding bullpen and flawlessly manage and maneuver their way through every obstacle in their path. That said, this alone still might not do the trick. In order to beat Chicago, the Tribe has to start increasing the offense, as the “just enough to get by” approach won’t work in this series.
Though offense wasn’t difficult to come by for Cleveland in the ALDS, it was a bit of a different story against Toronto. The team scored two runs a piece in Games 1 and 2, and struggled to scratch one across the board in Game 4. Though the Indians netted four in Game 3 and three in Game 5, most of the damage was from solo home runs. Outside of those, the hits were few and far between.
You could point to the difficulty in facing Toronto’s imposing rotation to explain this away. Of course, it should be noted the Cubs’ pitching is even better, boasting the best ERA of the majors this season. So, if that’s the reason for the quiet bats, it’s not exactly a confidence-booster for this series.
Making things more interesting is the fact Chicago’s lineup is just as imposing as its rotation. Guys like Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell are just a few of the names which could potentially hurt the Indians this series. Though the Cubs’ bats were silenced in Games 2 and 3 of the NLCS, they eventually woke up with a vengeance, outscoring the Los Angeles Dodgers 23-6 in the final three games.
So, you have a team which can shut down your offense on a nightly basis, which also boasts a lineup that could hang a crooked number in a hurry. As you can see, it’s more than enough evidence to prove Cleveland’s offense needs to wake up.
Relying on their makeshift rotation has somehow gotten the Indians this far, but two or three runs a night may not make the same impact against Chicago as it did against Boston or Toronto. Sure, I can give you tonight, where a fully-rested Corey Kluber takes the mound in Game 1. Provided we see the same “Klu-bot” who pitched two straight shutouts to open the postseason, a couple runs could be just enough for Cleveland.
Still, with Trevor Bauer‘s pinkie always on the verge of coming undone, along with Josh Tomlin‘s ever-present propensity to get roughed up, the Tribe will need to find a way to provide more run support through the rest of the series.
Mike Napoli heated up late in the ALCS, but will need to continue this trend in a big way starting tonight. The same could be said for Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis. Jose Ramirez was an offensive spark-plug all season long, but has been limited to just six hits in eight games in the playoffs.
While these contributions haven’t come back to hurt Cleveland just yet, it’s tough to believe this can last much longer. Sure, it’s asking a lot to have the Indians start generating more offense against baseball’s best rotation. At the same time, this is the World Series, and in order to achieve the final four wins of the year, they’ll have to find a way to generate more runs any way they can.