2016 World Series: A Position-by-Position Breakdown of the Indians and Cubs

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Oct 17, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Cleveland Indians first baseman Mike Napoli (right) hits a solo home run in front of Toronto Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin (left) during the fourth inning in game three of the 2016 ALCS playoff baseball series at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 17, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Cleveland Indians first baseman Mike Napoli (right) hits a solo home run in front of Toronto Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin (left) during the fourth inning in game three of the 2016 ALCS playoff baseball series at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /
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Outfield/DH

Chicago Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler (24) –  Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Chicago Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler (24) –  Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports /

We’ll look at the outfields and designated hitters for Cleveland and Chicago as whole units, as both Francona and Maddon are masters of shuffling several players in and out of the lineup in search of platoon advantages and have some such players to choose from.

The Indians have been hamstrung due to Brantley’s injury issues and PED suspensions for both Abraham Almonte and Marlon Byrd, yet Francona has squeezed better than average production from the unit. Tribe outfielders combined to slash .283/.340/.445 in 2016 and displayed a unique meshing of different skillsets.

Cleveland saw a 35-year old Rajai Davis lead the AL in stolen bases, got a 126 OPS+ out of rookie Tyler Naquin, watched Lonnie Chisenhall settle into right field after spending his career as a third baseman, and were rewarded with big late-season and postseason contributions from Brandon Guyer and Coco Crisp.

Those five players don’t give Francona and the Tribe any legitimate superstars, but each has done their part to get the club to the Fall Classic. Whether it be Chisenhall’s three-run homer off David Price in Game Two of the ALDS, Naquin’s two-run single in the clincher against the Red Sox, or Crisp’s two home runs at the exact moment, his team needed them.

Cleveland made its way through Boston and Toronto on the back of its pitching and defense, but timely hitting also played a critical role. The corps of outfielders the team has at its disposal was responsible for more than its fair share of those and must continue to produce in clutch spots if the Indians are to win.

The Indians also have the luxury of designated hitter Carlos Santana being accustomed to that role. Splitting time between the leadoff spot and the middle of the order during the regular season, the 30-year old had a pretty Santana-like season, slashing .259/.366/.498, drawing 99 walks and setting career-highs with 34 home runs and 87 RBIs.

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In the postseason, though, he’s seen some of his usual patience at the plate dissipate, drawing just two walks and slashing .172/.250/.379.

The issue Cleveland will have is that one of Santana or Napoli will likely find themselves on the bench when the series shifts to Wrigley Field.

Maddon has a little more stability in the outfield, with Dexter Fowler an all-star in center field and Ben Zobrist having moved to left the field with the emergence of Baez at second base.

The real question for the Cubs is in right field, where Jason Heyward and his $184 million contracts have had a decidedly down year.

Chicago’s outfield combined to slash .261/.353/.423 in the postseason, with Fowler being an on-base machine at the top of the order (.393 OBP) and Zobrist being his old, reliable self in the middle, hitting 18 home runs and driving in 76 while serving as protection for Rizzo.

Fowler has continued to be a catalyst in October, reaching base 13 times in 10 games, and scoring a team-high eight runs. Zobrist, though, has struggled to the tune of .167/.244/.250 and had just three hits against the Dodgers in the LCS.

Heyward slashed a meager .230/.306/.325 during the regular season and has looked increasingly uncomfortable at the plate during the postseason. In the club’s ten games, he’s just 2-for-28, good for a .071/.133 /.179 slash line, with his lone RBI coming on a groundout in the NLDS.

Behind Heyward and serving as both platoon options and potential DHs are rookie Albert Almora and second-year man Jorge Soler, both of whom are hitless thus far in the playoffs. The one looming question, of course, is the potential that Kyle Schwarber, one of last season’s big playoff contributors for the Cubs who’s been out since the first week of the season with a knee injury, could return to the team for the series. Schwarber would be the logical DH choice for Chicago if that’s the case, but it’s still up in the air.

Advantage: Cleveland

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