With more than 170 championship-less seasons between these two teams, the main storyline for this year’s World Series practically writes itself. Of course, as you’d expect from two pennant-winning clubs, there aren’t many discernible weaknesses—despite the talent having relatively little experience. So, who are the most likely candidates to step up amid the sport’s grandest stage? Here are three for each side.
3. Coco Crisp
Acquired in a late August deal, the 36-year-0ld Crisp went from the cellar in Oakland to the top floor in Cleveland.
His influence on the Tribe can be felt in his presence more than in his play on the field. Because all the youth and lack of World Series involvement, Crisp is comfortable with this moment—having played (and won) with the Boston Red Sox in 2007.
Terry Francona (his manager back in ’07) could surely use him both as a defensive replacement in the outfield and in pinch-hitting scenarios.
2. Jason Kipnis
Aside from a an ALCS Game 3 home run in Toronto, Kipnis’ impact has been nonexistent. In fact, he was held without a hit for the remainder of the series. His 3-for-4 performance in Game 1 of the ALDS seems a long time ago.
The Tribe, of course, cruised to the AL pennant in spite of a Kipnis cold spell. They won’t be able to match the potent Cubs if he keeps it up.
Should Kipnis be able to reach base, he’s one of many to pose as a threat on the basepaths. He stole 15 bases over the course of the regular season, and can easily expose Cubs starters Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta, both of whom have difficulty holding runners on. We’ll see if the ankle he injured during the celebration in Toronto hampers him.
1. Cody Allen
Cleveland’s greatest strength during the postseason has been it’s lights out bullpen—with ALCS MVP Andrew Miller being the main source of darkness. But what if, either through tiredness or ineffectiveness, Miller becomes less inhuman?
Though obscured by the dominant left-hander, Allen is nearly as capable of shutting down opposing offenses over more than one inning of work. In the seven Cleveland playoff victories, Allen has been heavily involved in six of them—racking up five saves (the most of any pitcher this month) and allowing just five hits over 7.2 innings.
He was 32-for-35 in save opportunities during the regular season, and that reliability is currently being maintained in this most pressure-packed time.
3. Jake Arrieta
As invincible as the defending NL Cy Young Award winner was for a stretch between the 2015 and 2016 regular seasons, his current vulnerability places him in relative obscurity. With the great performances of Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks, Arrieta is now relegated to the third-best starter in the Chicago rotation.
That, however, doesn’t do much to diminish his importance.
Arrieta is slated to get the ball for Game 2, with the pressure on his shoulders to try to carry momentum back to Wrigley. This outing will prove whether he can measure up to the level of his fellow starters or if his stamina is down similar to the way it was last postseason.
2. Ben Zobrist
Over the last two seasons, Zobrist knows nothing but the World Series. He was a key contributor in the Kansas City Royals’ championship run of 2015—recording four doubles and scoring five runs in a five-game victory over New York.
For a team that posted the second-most runs in the National League during their 103-win regular season, Zobrist (at 35 years old) collected 142 hits and scored 94 times in 147 games played—maintaining the consistency he displayed during his previous big league stops.
Zobrist wasn’t the most lucrative acquisition this past offseason (a distinction that goes to Jason Heyward), but he was the most important.
1. Addison Russell
After Game 3 of the NLCS, the Cubs offense had gone 18 straight innings without scoring a run. The man who normally occupied the fifth spot in the batting order (and boasts the third-best WAR among the club’s position players) had been held hitless through nine at-bats.
In Game 4, Chicago’s hitting resurgence coincided with Russell getting out of his slump. The shortstop went 3-for-5 with a homer and two RBIs last Wednesday as the Cubs evened up their series with the Dodgers. He provided a tie-breaking sixth inning homer to center field one night later. Over the final three NLCS contests, Russell went 6-for-13.
Should he remain able to provide timely hits, the Cubs’ chances of breaking the 108-year-old curse becomes that much better.