The Cubs and Indians are looking to end a long drought for one of their fan bases in the 2016 World Series. Earlier this postseason, I compared the Cubs pitching to the other National League contenders, and the Cubs had a clear advantage, which held to be true in October.
The Indians have been led by the strength of their pitching as well. This is minus Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar — both missing due to their respective injuries. (There is hope that Salazar can be a bullpen piece in this series at the time of their writing.) As the World Series is set to begin, one guarantee is we will see great pitching over the next week, but who has the edge when comparing pitching staffs? Let’s assume the rotations will break down as follows:
Cubs — Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, and John Lackey
Indians — Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin, and Ryan Merritt
Here are the combined postseason numbers through the Division Series and League Championship Series:
The Cubs clearly have leaned on their starters to carry them this postseason — the group has racked up 56.1 innings — and they have succeeded. Lackey has struggled the most in the rotation, allowing five earned runs in only eight innings. On the other end of the spectrum, Lester has a 0.86 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 21 innings. As impressive as Chicago’s starters have been this postseason, Cleveland may be more impressive.
Cleveland has leaned on primarily three starters to get them this far into October. Kluber, Bauer, Tomlin, and for 4.1 innings, Merritt, have combined to average more than a strikeout per inning, with 40 strikeouts in 38.2 frames. Kluber has looked like the 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner and the ace of the staff Cleveland knew he was going into the postseason. In 18.1 innings, he has 20 strikeouts and only seven walks, all while opponents are hitting .197 against him.
Even though Chicago’s starters have thrown more innings than Cleveland, I think they will have less wear and tear on them when compared to Cleveland because their innings have been distributed between four starters as compared to only three for the Indians. Plus, Chicago’s fourth starter, Lackey, takes the cake over Merritt or whomever else Cleveland picks for Game 4. The edge for starting pitchers goes to the Cubs.
If the 2016 postseason has taught us anything, it is that a dominate bullpen can carry you in October. Andrew Miller. There has been no more dominate reliever in this years postseason, and who knows if Cleveland would be in the position they are in now if they had not acquired Miller at the deadline. In 11.2 innings out of the bullpen, Miller has a 0.00 ERA with 21 strikeouts; opponents are hitting only .132. The entire Indians bullpen has 41 punchouts and only seven free passes in their 32.1 innings.
The Cubs haven’t had one sole dominant force in the bullpen, but their total numbers are solid. In 4.2 innings, Travis Wood has a 1.93 ERA, and he even hit a home run off George Kontos of the San Francisco Giants in the NLDS. Aroldis Chapman has had his hiccups, but overall he has gotten the work done. In eight innings, he has 10 strikeouts and only four walks.
As a team, the Cubs could use more consistent success from their bullpen in the World Series; thus, they need to rely heavily on their starters in the first two rounds. The edge in the bullpen goes to the Indians, but I am leery of Miller continuing on his unsustainable dominance. Will he be reminiscent of the storyline of Daniel Murphy, who caught fire early in the 2015 postseason and then cooled off in the World Series?
Over the next week, we will see who can end the drought of becoming champion, but no matter who it is, at the end of the World Series I feel the storyline will be about which respective pitching staff led the way. It is time for the curse of the billy goat to end — the Cubs will win the 2016 World Series.
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Carl Triano is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score and Minor League Ball.