Before the 112th World Series gets underway between the Cubs and the Indians, SI.com asked a major league scout familiar with both teams for his thoughts on what to expect. He was promised anonymity in exchange for his candor.
The biggest advantage the Cubs have is they’ve got three quality starters who are better than almost everybody in the big leagues and the hardest-throwing closer in the majors.
Jon Lester is a potential Cy Young this year because Clayton Kershaw was hurt. Lester has the equipment to match up pretty well with Cleveland because its better hitters are lefthanded. He throws hard and he has a good cutter and a breaking ball he can use, plus a tremendous game-caller behind the plate with David Ross, his personal catcher. But Les can’t throw to first. If the Indians can get guys on, they’re going to run. Still, for a guy who can’t throw to first base he’s quick to the plate, and Ross can throw ’em out, so they have to guess right.
Nobody on Chicago's staff holds runners well. JakeArrieta’s delivery takes a while to develop. He has difficulty speeding things up because command of the strike zone is the most important thing for him. His delivery isn’t classic; it’s a mishmash. He throws across his body. They may end up stealing more bases on Arrieta than on Lester because the other catchers have arm strength but not the game sense that Ross has. The strategy with Arrieta is to get his pitch count up and get him out of the game. He’s up at the 90–100 pitch mark by the fifth and six innings a lot.
Kyle Hendricks is a magician. He’s the closest thing out there to being this generation’s Greg Maddux. He understands adding and subtracting with velocity, he has tremendous command of the strike zone on both sides, and he’s got a good changeup. If you’re guessing, you’re going to guess wrong most of the time. And when you have a horse like John Lackey in the four-hole, it’s a tremendous bonus, because he’s an ornery, nasty pitcher who will knock you on your butt.
The only hole we saw coming into August was the bullpen, and they filled that pretty nicely. Hector Rondon is not the guy I want out there with a man on third and less than two outs in a tie game. He’s not going to get the out. Aroldis Chapman will. He throws a million miles per hour. His philosophy is, I’m going to throw this little aspirin tablet right by you.
Offense and Defense
Miguel Montero has had a terrible year. He’s on the downside of his career, but he ran into a hanging Joe Blanton slider and hit the game-winning grand slam in Game 1 of the NLCS, so now he’s a hero.... Willson Contreras has big-time skills. He’s raw, but he’s the future of the Cubs. He’s a good hitter, but the nuances of catching are things he has to learn from Ross.
Anthony Rizzo has big power and stands right on top of the plate. He’s fortunate he’s not playing 20 years ago, because he would’ve had his hands broken by the old guys. They would’ve pitched him thumbnail to his elbow constantly, which is how you get him out. You’ve got to have the guts to hit him, to work at the letters—but if you make a mistake there he’s so strong and fearless he’ll take you out of the ballpark, especially at Wrigley.
Javier Baez is the closest thing to Roberto Alomar in the game today. He has unbelievable skills, fast hands. He can tag well, turn the double play. With Bill Mazeroski, it seemed like the ball never hit his glove, he transferred it so fast, and this kid is like that. He has big range and a shortstop’s arm and shortstop’s agility—he’s a better shortstop than Addison Russell, but not as consistent as Russell. When Baez gets on a bad streak, he’s prone to making errors. He was always touted as a great physical talent, which he is, but now he’s maturing. He understands the game much better now than he did a few years ago.... Russell is a reliable defender with pretty good power. If he can get to it, he’ll catch it and throw you out. He’s not going to go into the hole and make a spectacular play, but if it’s a routine ball, it’s an out. For this club, he’s perfect.... Just like with Rizzo, if you want to beat Kris Bryant, you beat him in on his thumbnails, but if it leaks in there, you’re in trouble. Bryant’s proven he can play third base and handle the strike zone very well. Along with Colorado's Nolan Arenado, he’s the gold standard at that position for the next 10 years.
I’m sure Buck Showalter wonders how Dexter Fowler got away from Baltimore. He gambled on himself when he turned down a contract from the Orioles last off-season, and he won. He’s not an ultimate defender, but he’s average to plus and he throws okay. In Wrigley the philosophy is, If the ball is over your head, it’s going out, so play shallow, but he’s dropped back in the outfield this year and found a more comfortable place.
Jason Heyward is a terrific defender, but at the plate the league has found out he can’t catch up to good velocity in. For years he’s had the same problem, and so few guys pitch in anymore that he got away with it, but now they know it. If you throw a slider for a strike to him, you should have your head examined because that’s his bat speed. If you’ve got good velocity, you can bury Heyward. He’s got batting-practice power, but it just doesn’t translate.
Ben Zobrist is a jack-of-all-trades. With Baez’s success, he’s the leftfielder because Baez is a much better second baseman. Zobrist does all the little things well—he can bunt, he can squeeze, he can run. Every team should have one of him. Is he a great outfielder? No, but he’s adequate. Is he a great infielder? No, but he’s adequate. Is he a great hitter? No, but he’s adequate. He’s a winner.
The Indians are not as good as the Cubs, but they’re hot. Game 1 is gonna be crucial, with Corey Kluber going in Cleveland. If Chicago wins the first game, it’s in pretty good shape because the pitching really falls in its favor after that game. Kluber has velocity and he’s a great competitor. He has a real strike-to-ball breaking ball; I don’t know whether he’s calling it a cutter or a slider these days. If the Cubs’ righthanded hitters expand the strike zone away, Kluber can really hurt them badly. If they try to pull it or take it out of the ballpark, he’ll eat them alive. For lefthanders, it’s going to be a lot of back-foot sliders. He has enough velocity to throw the four-seamer up and away. He’s not quite the Cy Young-caliber [pitcher] of a couple years ago, but he’s pretty damn close. He has to pitch Games 1, 4 and 7.
Trevor Bauer must have gone to a vet to get his finger stitched up. I have never seen anybody bleed that fast like he did during ALCS Game 3. He’s kind of a weirdo, but he’s a really smart kid and he’s got skills. He has power stuff, so the Cubs may rake him, but again, if they expand the zone, they’re in trouble. They have to be somewhat patient with Cleveland's pitching. It’s a very good strike-to-ball staff.
Josh Tomlin is their Kyle Hendricks. Tomlin doesn’t have much velocity, but he has that big downer curveball that doesn’t finish in the strike zone a lot of the time, but it looks so enticing that people chase it. If the Cubs go after that curveball, they’ll get themselves out.
The wild card here is Danny Salazar. I would bet the ranch he’s on the roster if for nothing else than because manager Terry Francona wants a scare factor. You never get to your 11th pitcher on the playoffs, so it’s not even really playing a man down. Just stick him in the bullpen and warm him up and you may affect tactics on the other side. If he does pitch, he’s a good option because he has a legit power arm.
Obviously the strength of this team is its bullpen. It’s like that old Yankees bullpen—once they get to the sixth inning, you’re in trouble. Andrew Miller has been awesome recently. He throws very, very, very, very hard and he has a wipeout slider. It’s so tight and so late and so hard to pick up. He reminds me of Goose Gossage back in the day—throws 98 [mph] with a hard slider to go with it. He can humiliate hitters. Hitters don’t want to be embarrassed. If you can’t hit velocity, it’s understandable, but you don’t want to miss a slider by two feet, which guys do against him. It just plays with their heads. There’s the guy whose pitch count you want to get up. The first game he comes in it’s imperative that they elevate his pitch count. It won’t affect him that day, but it might for the future. That slider is so tight and so late; it’s hard to pick up. If I’m with the Cubs, I’m saying, choose a side—inner half or outer half—and sit dead red. If you see any slider spin, don’t swing, cause you’re not going to hit it anyway. Failure as a starting pitcher earlier in his career really helped him. He’s found a comfortable delivery and he’s sold on it.
Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen are similar—hard throwers with cut, live action on the fastball. When righthanded hitters try to pull those guys, it’s hard. They work away from you on the outer half and get a lot of ground balls to shortstop. If you go the other way you can have success. Chicago has more hitters who will do that. Those three pitchers are going to be in every game. Their long guys and middle guys are serviceable. Jeff Manship, Zach McAllister—serviceable. Mike Clevinger—bad hair, but serviceable. Are they ever going to be in the game in the seventh inning? No, they’re not.
Offense and Defense
Roberto Perez is a young kid with a very good feel for catching. Pitchers love throwing to him. He’s not a very good offensive guy yet, but he can really catch. He has a chance to grow into a Salvador Perez.
Mike Napoli is a real Joe’s Pizzeria guy. You can see him out playing softball with a case of beer, going up there and taking an uppercut swing and hitting the ball out of sight. He has great leadership skills and people just gravitate to him. He’s made himself into a decent first baseman.
Carlos Santana was a catcher who couldn’t catch and wasn’t very good down at first base, so he’ll DH. The middle infield is a real strength. Jason Kipnis has always been a good hitter. He’s a catalyst for them. Every club would love to have a Kipnis. He’s Daniel Murphy with power. Teams don’t realize you've got to go in on his hands.
Francisco Lindor is special. The playoffs have exposed what a good player he is. He’s a great kid, plays hard. He’s magical. He has a great arm and good hands, he’s good around the bag, he can really hit and he can run. He’s a five-tool guy; pencil him in as shortstop in the All-Star Game for years. [Astros shortstop] Carlos Correa got the hype, but Lindor's feel for the game is better than Correa’s.
Jose Ramirez is a good player who gets big hits. He’s a productive, clutch hitter because he has a pretty good idea of the strike zone and he hits line drives, uses the whole field. He has enough power to be dangerous. He’s a typical Francona player. Speaking of Francona, Tito is perfect for this club. He handles players extremely well, players love playing for him and he’s a good human being.... The whole Cleveland outfield is third outfielders. Tyler Naquin had a good year, but can you see a good club having him as the centerpiece? No. Coco Crisp and Rajai Davis are threats because they can run. In this matchup that’s especially important. You’ll see them against Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta. Lonnie Chisenhall can hit velocity.