Having just won their first pennant since the Truman administration, the Chicago Cubs – baseball’s most illustrious losers – are now four wins away of their first World Series title in more than a century. Standing between the Cubs and their long-awaited catharsis are the Cleveland Indians, an under-respected club eyeing their first championship since 1948 after breezing through the first two rounds of the postseason. So how do these two teams stack up against each other? Here’s a position-by-position breakdown of this highly anticipated World Series matchup.

CATCHER

Since Willson Contreras was called up in June, the Cubs have rotated their three backstops – Contreras, Miguel Montero, and David Ross – pretty seamlessly, as only four National League teams received more WAR from their catchers after the All-Star break than Chicago (1.8). Contreras, 24, will likely get the lion’s share of playing time in the World Series, though, having hit .400 through his first 10 postseason games, while also stroking a laser-beam home run off Clayton Kershaw in Game 6 of the NLCS. Though Yan Gomes, meanwhile, will likely crack their World Series roster for safety’s sake, the Indians will continue to roll with Roberto Perez, a career backup who’s hit .174 this postseason, but has a cannon for an arm and is considered one of the game’s elite pitch-framers. Edge: Cubs

FIRST BASE

In addition to being one of the game’s elite hitters, Anthony Rizzo – whose .913 OPS (148 OPS+) since 2014 is seventh-best in the majors – recently dispelled the notion that he can’t hit in the postseason, too; after going just 1-for-23 through his first six playoff games, the three-time All-Star has gone 8-for-17 (.471) with two doubles and homers in his last four. Mike Napoli’s pop ain’t nothing to sneeze at, either – he tied Carlos Santana for the team lead with 34 homers during the regular season, and cranked a huge bomb off Marcus Stroman in Game 3 of the ALCS – but the veteran slugger doesn’t hit for a high average and strikes out a ton, as well, fanning in 30.1 percent of his plate appearances in 2016. Edge: Cubs

SECOND BASE

No player has been more fun to watch this postseason than Javier Baez, the recently crowned NLCS co-MVP who boasts preternatural instincts afield and seems to make spectacular, highlight-reel plays every other inning. With an improved approach, Baez – who posted a .737 OPS during the regular season – remains a threat in the box, too, having hit .342 with four doubles and one home run this postseason. That said, Jason Kipnis is a reliable, top-of-the-order hitter who has quietly put up at least 4.5 WAR in three of the last four seasons, and despite his struggles in the ALCS, the 29-year-old hit .275/.343/.469 (107 OPS+) with a career-high 23 homers this year. Edge: Even

SHORTSTOP

This year’s Fall Classic will also function as a showcase for two of the game’s premier young shortstops. In one corner, you got Francisco Lindor, the 22-year-old Puerto Rico native who followed up his bonkers rookie campaign by finishing third among MLB shortstops in WAR (6.3) this year, hitting .301/.358/.435 with 15 homers, 19 steals, and 17 defensive runs saved en route to his first career All-Star berth. Opposite Lindor, you got another 22-year-old in Addison Russell, a similarly gifted defender who managed a less impressive .738 OPS this year, but smashed 21 homers before also going deep in Game 4 and 5 of the championship series. These kids can play. Edge: Indians

THIRD BASE

With the exception of Mike Trout, no player was more valuable in 2016 than Kris Bryant, the presumptive National League MVP who, in his second season, smashed 39 homers and posted a .939 OPS while also cutting down his strikeouts and improving his work at third base, according to both DRS and Ultimate Zone Rating. As it happens, outside of Lindor, no player was more valuable to Cleveland in 2016 than Jose Ramirez, the light-hitting utilityman who broke out after taking over as the Indians’ primary third baseman, hitting .312/.353/.462 with 11 homers, 46 doubles, and 22 stolen bases. A year ago, this comparison would’ve been way more lopsided. Edge: Cubs

OUTFIELD

While it remains unclear if Jason Heyward will be relegated to platoon role for the World Series (as he should be), the Cubs are poised to field a strong outfield regardless, with newly minted All-Star Dexter Fowler being flanked by repeated All-Star Ben Zobrist and either Heyward (somehow, a former All-Star) or defensive wiz Albert Almora Jr. Conversely, the Indians’ outfield is lacking in veteran star power, but Tyler Naquin enjoyed a terrific rookie season – he hit .296/.372/.514 with 14 homers – and the Coco Crisp/Brandon Guyer platoon is actually not as bad as you’d think. (Lonnie Chisenhall isn’t good). Edge: Cubs

DESIGNATED HITTER

In a perfect world, Kyle Schwarber’s knee feels good enough that he can serve as the Cubs’ DH for Games 1 and 2 at Progressive Field (and, potentially, Games 6 and 7, too). Failing that, the Cubs will likely use either Jorge Soler, Chris Coghlan, or Miguel Montero in the DH spot, depending on the matchup. All three struggled this season, but Soler posted an .887 OPS over his final 41 games, Coghlan boasts a career .335 OBP, and Montero has four homers in his last 50 at-bats. The Indians, who play in a league that doesn’t allow pitchers to hit, will have Carlos Santana start at DH, with manager Terry Francona likely slotting the 30-year-old – responsible for an .865 OPS and 34 homers this season – into the leadoff spot. Edge: Indians

BENCH

The Cubs have quite a bit of pop off the bench between Jorge Soler and Miguel Montero (remember this?), and definitely have outfield defense available in reserve, as evideneced by Almora’s insane diving catch in Game 3 of the National League Division Series. Of course, with so many stars in his lineup, Maddon doesn’t really need to use his bench that much. Meanwhile, in Rajai Davis, the Indians have a late-game stolen-base option, and Brandon Guyer offers a nice right-handed bat, but Francona’s bench is otherwise limited to never-going-to-see-the-field fillers like Michael Martinez and a still-recovering Yan Gomes. Edge: Cubs

STARTERS

Even if the Indians’ rotation wasn’t as banged up as Clayton Kershaw’s ego, the Cubs would still have the better group of starters. Kyle Hendricks, who allowed one run in 12 2/3 innings in the NLCS, led the majors in ERA this year, while veteran left-hander Jon Lester will likely succeed teammate Jake Arrieta as the NL Cy Young award winner. The Cubs’ fourth starter, John Lackey, would be the second-best option on an Indians team without Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco. As things currently stand, outside of Corey Kluber, the Indians’ rotation is, well, not good, with all due respect to Josh Tomlin (career 4.58 ERA), Trevor Bauer (career 4.42 ERA), and Ryan Merritt (career totaling 11 innings). Edge: Cubs

BULLPEN

It’s important to note that one of these managers uses his bullpen as managers traditionally do, while the other remains completely unfazed by the longstanding mores of bullpen management. With his rotation decimated by injury, Francona has essentially been forced to get creative with his reliever usage this postseason (necessity is the mother of invention, after all), and, so far, it’s worked out swimmingly. The Indians’ bullpen owns a 1.67 ERA this postseason while accounting for 48 percent of the club’s outs, and that mostly comes down to Andrew Miller (0 ER in 11 2/3 IP) and Cody Allen (0 ER in 7 2/3 IP). Though the Cubs’ big relief arms (Aroldis Chapman, Hector Rondon, Pedro Storp) are intimidating, too, they’re not as fundamental to their team’s success as Miller and Allen. Edge: Indians

Menu