It only feels right that the 2016 World Series is already a back-and-forth affair, considering the history hanging in the balance.
The Cleveland Indians struck first in Game 1 behind a gem from Corey Kluber and dominant bullpen pitching from Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. The Chicago Cubs bounced back in Game 2 after Jake Arrieta took a no-hitter into the sixth inning.
Now Cleveland is three wins away from winning its first title since 1948, while the Cubs are three wins away from shedding their "Lovable Losers" moniker and capturing their first championship since 1908.
Remaining World Series Schedule
|Date||Game||Matchup||Pitching Matchup||Predicted Winner|
|Friday, Oct. 28||3||Cleveland Indians at Chicago Cubs||Josh Tomlin vs. Kyle Hendricks||Cubs|
|Saturday, Oct. 29||4||Cleveland Indians at Chicago Cubs||Corey Kluber vs. John Lackey||Indians|
|Sunday, Oct. 30||5||Cleveland Indians at Chicago Cubs||Trevor Bauer vs. Jon Lester||Cubs|
|Tuesday, Nov. 1||6*||Chicago Cubs at Cleveland Indians||Jake Arrieta vs. Josh Tomlin||Cubs|
|Wednesday, Nov. 2||7*||Chicago Cubs at Cleveland Indians||Kyle Hendricks vs. Corey Kluber||--|
Breakdown and Prediction
The first thing that jumps out about the pitching matchups is the fact Cleveland will be using a starter on short rest every game after Friday's contest.
Indians manager Terry Francona talked about using that strategy, per the Associated Press (via USA Today): "We tried to look at our team and how we best set up, and what's in our best interest to win four games before the Cubs do, and that's how we came to this conclusion."
There is a reason the Indians are predicted to win Game 4 in Wrigley Field—Kluber. He already left the Chicago hitters helpless in Game 1 with six shutout innings, and he preserved his freshness for Saturday by throwing only 88 pitches in the process.
The Indians have the perfect combination of six innings from Kluber, two innings from Miller and a save from Allen when their ace starts the game. That will show up once again in Game 4.
Kluber has been essentially unhittable in the postseason with a sparkling 0.74 ERA in four starts. The the Cubs will want to do everything in their power to prevent a Game 7 in Cleveland with the 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner on the hill.
However, Cleveland's advantage in the starting-pitching matchups begins and ends with Kluber.
Josh Tomlin finished with a pedestrian 4.40 ERA this season, although he has been impressive in the playoffs with just three earned runs allowed in 10.2 innings of work. That formidable stretch will end against a powerful Chicago lineup that has 28 combined runs in its last five games, which includes a shutout loss in the contest against Kluber.
Trevor Bauer is the other Cleveland starter, and Chicago already knocked him around once with six hits and two walks in 3.2 innings. He limited the damage to two earned runs, but that is not a strong enough performance when squaring off with the Cubs rotation.
That Chicago starting staff as a whole finished with the best ERA in baseball by a wide margin this year. Its 2.96 ERA was well ahead of the second-place Washington Nationals, who checked in at 3.60.
Fred Huebner of ESPN 1000 in Chicago thinks the rotation will prove to be the difference moving forward in this World Series:
Kyle Hendricks is next on the docket for Chicago. His confidence should be at an all-time high after he threw 7.1 scoreless innings and allowed just two hits in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series. He outdueled the Los Angeles Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw and proved his overwhelming effectiveness at Wrigley Field once again.
According to ESPN.com, Hendricks finished with a 1.32 ERA and .201 batting average against in 95.1 innings in the Windy City this season.
Jon Lester is another Cy Young Award candidate alongside Hendricks, and he won't match up against Kluber this time after he allowed three earned runs in 5.2 innings in Game 1.
Despite the lackluster outing, it is wise to trust the southpaw's track record. He has a 2.60 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in 20 postseason appearances for Chicago and the Boston Red Sox. Lester also is a battled-tested veteran who has delivered on some of the biggest stages of his career. He sports a head-turning 1.35 ERA and 0.938 WHIP in four World Series starts, per Baseball Reference.
The Cubs will move from two Cy Young candidates to the 2015 National League Cy Young winner when Arrieta takes the ball again in Game 6. He already proved he can baffle the Cleveland lineup with Wednesday's performance when he allowed just one earned run and two hits in 5.2 innings.
John Lackey squaring off with Kluber in Game 4 is not an ideal matchup for Chicago (even if Lackey has a 3.26 ERA in 25 career postseason appearances), but the team's overall depth in the starting rotation is one reason it won an MLB-best 103 games this year.
It is also the reason the Cubs will lift the World Series trophy after six games in this series.
Prediction: Cubs in six