World Series positional breakdown: Cubs vs. Tribe

Teams combined to win 14 of 18 postseason games

October 24th, 2016

You know as well as we do that the World Series is going to be dominated by history. You'll see the years 1908 and 1948 just about everywhere. One way or another, one of these two teams is going to end a painfully long drought.

There's a place for all that, of course, but at its core, this is also a pretty fascinating baseball series. On one hand, Chicago is the undisputed best team in baseball, with hardly a weakness to be found. On the other, Cleveland continues to defy the odds presented by a tattered starting rotation, with manager Terry Francona continuing to deploy his bullpen in nontraditional ways to maximize leverage and effectiveness.

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World Series Game 1: Tonight, 7:30 p.m. ET air time/8 p.m. game time on FOX

Only one team is going to walk away with the title, but despite the forces of history that pushed the Cubs to this spot, it's not like Cleveland came this far to just roll over, either. Let's break down the 2016 World Series, position by position.

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has caught every inning for Cleveland so far, earning high praise from Tribe pitchers for his excellent pitch framing and game-calling, and that matters. Still, after hitting just .183/.285/.294 (58 wRC+, where 100 is league average) during the season, he hit only .174/.269/.348 in the postseason. Meanwhile, Chicago's has not only been impressive behind the plate as well, his bat (.282/.357/.488, 126 wRC+ in the regular season, .400/.429/.550 in 21 postseason appearances) is a threat, and ' impressive throwing skills are perhaps the No. 1 reason can survive his inability to throw to first. (Ross' Statcast™ exchange time, which measures how quickly he gets the ball out of his hands after receiving the pitch, was .66 seconds on steal attempts of second, which is tied for the fastest of 67 catchers with 10 attempts against them.)

Throw in the fact that it was actually who hit the biggest homer of the postseason for the Cubs so far, and this group of Chicago catchers outweighs the valuable skills Perez provides for his pitchers.

Advantage: Chicago

First base

Remember when was in an October slump and everyone was panicking? It seems so far away now after he had eight hits -- including two home runs and two doubles -- in the final four games of the NLCS, and it's a good reminder that performance over long periods of times outweighs what happens over a few days. Rizzo has been one of the five or so most valuable players in baseball over the last three seasons (per FanGraphs WAR), averaging .285/.386/.527 (148 wRC+) over that time, and although (.239/.335/.465, 113 wRC+ in 2016) was a quietly excellent signing for Cleveland, he's a very good player being compared with a superstar.

Advantage: Chicago

Second base

Don't worry, Cleveland fans, this won't be a Chicago sweep, or close to it. Although the endless exploits of may be one of the biggest stories of the postseason, his spectacular plays have helped mask some simple fielding mistakes and the fact that he wasn't even a league-average hitter this season (.273/.314/.423, 94 wRC+). , meanwhile, just put up his second consecutive excellent season (.275/.343/.469, 117 wRC+) and fourth in the last five. We may look back on this October as the month Baez burst onto the national stage, but for now, Kipnis is still the better player ... assuming the ankle sprain he sustained celebrating the ALCS win doesn't prove serious.

Slight advantage: Cleveland


That this advantage goes to Cleveland says a lot less about -- who is proving himself to be one of baseball's most exciting young shortstops -- than it does about . Both are just 22 years old, and both rank very highly on defense, with both DRS and UZR considering them to be top-four defenders at the position. But even though Russell did set a career high in home runs, with 21, his overall line -- .238/.321/.417 (95 wRC+) -- doesn't match up with Lindor's .301/.358/.435 (112 wRC+). Lindor is also more of a threat on the bases (19 steals to five),in part because he takes the fifth-highest lead distance on steal attempts, and has been better this October (.323/.344/.581 to .189/.211/.378). Russell's becoming a star; Lindor may already be a superstar.

Advantage: Cleveland 

Third base

This is sort of like the shortstop situation, but in reverse. Whereas Jose Ramirez had a breakout season (.312/.363/.462, 122 wRC+), making starts at four positions, had a Most Valuable Player-caliber season (.292/.385/.554, 149 wRC+, 39 homers) ... while also making starts at four positions. It's fair to say that Cleveland doesn't get here if Ramirez doesn't step up to replace the injured in left and later the ineffective at third; it's also not an insult in the least to say that Bryant, one of baseball's five best players, has the edge here.

Advantage: Chicago

Left field

With the rise of Baez at second, has been the primary left fielder in the postseason, and may be even more so now that other Cubs will have to step up to fill the designated hitter role. Zobrist's first season in Chicago was a success (.272/.386/.446, 124 wRC+), so that and his track record give him a clear advantage over (.231/.302/.397, 90 wRC+). That said, Indians manager Terry Francona does have a weapon to use here in lefty masher (.288/.390/.469, 144 wRC+ career against lefty pitching), which may be key against Lester and several bullpen southpaws.

Advantage: Chicago

Center field

Cleveland will platoon rookie lefty (.296/.372/.514, 135 wRC+, with poor defensive numbers) with veteran righty (career .288/.343/.437, 112 wRC+ against lefties), and watching Davis and his 43 steals face off against Lester ought to be a treat. It's a good combination, yet neither one is as good overall as (.276/.393/.447, 129 wRC+). For what it's worth, Fowler has more extra-base hits this October (five) than Naquin/Davis have hits (three).

Advantage: Chicago

Right field

"All of 's struggles will be forgotten if he comes up big in the postseason," went the refrain from Cubs fans, and time is quickly running out for that to happen. After a miserable Chicago debut (.230/.306/.325, 72 wRC+), Heyward has appeared overmatched in the postseason (.071/.133/.179 in 30 plate appearances), and he was actually benched and replaced with rookie in Game 6 of the NLCS. It's not as though 's lesser defense or decent regular-season line of .286/.328/.439 (103 wRC+) inspire a ton of confidence, either. It's just that Heyward has hit so poorly, despite still providing elite defense, that it may only be Cleveland's lack of lefty starters outside that keeps him in the lineup.

Advantage: Push

Designated hitter

's return has the makings of October magic, but it's also been more than a year since he had a hit in a game that mattered (Game 3 of the 2015 NLCS). Even at full strength last year, his 132 wRC+ merely matched what the underrated did this year, and Santana is fully healthy with a solid track record of success. Otherwise, (who started seven of 10 Cubs regular-season games in AL parks) could start in Games 1 and/or 2, and his .238/.333/.436 (106 wRC+) line, along with potential contributions from or one of the extra catchers, can't match up with the underrated brilliance of Santana's .259/.366/.498 (132 wRC+) line and 34 home runs.

Big advantage: Cleveland … unless Schwarber provides miracles

Starting rotation

Cleveland deserves tremendous respect for getting this far without , and most of 's pinky, as has been the ace he's expected to be while and Merritt have been nice surprises. At full strength, this is a pretty difficult conversation between these two rotations. Cleveland isn't at full strength, of course, or anything close to it, and the Cubs are in a situation where , who won last year's Cy Young Award and is among the best pitchers in the game, is their third starter. You saw how carved up the Dodgers, right? You've seen that Lester's throwing issues haven't prevented him from dominating, right? It's not a fair fight for Cleveland, not that it has been all month.

Big advantage: Cubs

Relief ace

Since Cleveland has made it perfectly clear that closer is no longer the most important role in the bullpen, we're going to do the same here, comparing each team's best reliever -- and -- though they're used somewhat differently. Although it may seem inconceivable that the flame-throwing Chapman could be bested by anybody, what Miller has done this postseason (41 batters faced, 21 strikeouts, two walks, five hits, zero runs) is just about unprecedented. Meanwhile, Chapman hasn't looked quite himself in October, allowing batted balls hit 100 mph or more on 8 percent of swings against him, compared with 3.4 percent during the regular season. Although we wouldn't normally place much emphasis on small-sample postseason stats for someone as elite as Chapman, it doesn't take much to allow Miller to pull ahead.

Small advantage: Cleveland

Other relievers

Of course, doing it that way means that Cleveland still gets to count among the rest of its relievers, and although it may be easy to forget given Miller's dominance, Allen is still really, really good. Over the last three years, Allen's 33.4 percent strikeout rate is seventh among relievers (Chapman and Miller are among the six ahead, of course), and he's been unscored upon this postseason, striking out 12 in 7 2/3 innings -- thanks in large part to a high-spin 2517 RPM fastball that ranks in the top three percent in fastball spin. But whereas has been useful and we may see a surprise Salazar appearance, the Cleveland bullpen depth drops off, whereas the Cubs can still throw and and and and . Edwards is the best reliever you don't know about, but ultimately there's a lot of talent on both sides.

Advantage: Push