Breaking down 2020 Cubs Opponents: Cleveland Indians
The Cubs will face-off against the Indians in 2020 (Jeff Curry - USA Today Sports)

Breaking down 2020 Cubs Opponents: Cleveland Indians

by - Senior Writer -

This was supposed to be the season in which we got to see the AL East for the first time since 2017. With home matchups scheduled with the Yankees and Red Sox among the interleague highlights, it was shaping up to be an exciting time at Wrigley. That was until COVID had other plans and forced the sports world to get turned upside down.

Now with just a 60-game season, the Cubs will not only get 20 games against the AL Central this season but will turn around and see them once again next season as 2021 would have been the normal rotation. Part of the AL Central schedule is four games with the Indians this season with the first two August 11-12 at Cleveland and the last two September 15-16 at Wrigley.

Ever since these two teams met in the classic 2016 World Series, it appears that they have a newfound love for one another as a rivalry knowing what both teams experienced during those seven amazing games. Since that World Series title, the teams have met four times with the Cubs going 1-3 in those four games.

All-time against the Indians, including the World Series, the Cubs have gone 14-15, but have gone 12-9 since we reached the 2000 campaign.

This season will be unlike any other, that's for sure, and these are not the same Indians of the 2016 and 2018 seasons when the Cubs last saw them. All three of their dominant World Series pitchers are no longer in the rotation, the bullpen has been gutted from what it once was, and Jason Kipnis (now on the North Side) is just one of a handful of lineup changes that have given the Indians a drastically different look heading into 2020.

When you look at the Indians' rotation now, Cleveland will be anchored by a pair of young arms in Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber. Clevinger was a long reliever during the 2016 World Series run for the Indians before turning full-time starter in 2018. Bieber burst onto the scene last year and proved to be a front of the rotation arm.

Joining those two in the rotation will be Carlos Carrasco, who is hoping to be fully healthy once again and would be a solid No. 3. Adam Plutko and Jefry Rodriguez round out the rotation as those two are unproven arms at this point, as the Indians have a lot of work to do to establish a new top of the line rotation.

What made the Indians so successful in the past was a dominating three-headed monster in the bullpen that was anchored by Brian Shaw, Andrew Miller, and Cody Allen. None of these three men are in Cleveland anymore, but the Indians do still have a reliable closer in Brad Hand. If you can get the ball to Hand, chances are the Indians will win the game, but getting the ball to him could be the challenge. Guys like Hunter Wood, Nick Wittgren, Adam Cimber, and Emmanuel Clase will be looked at as the primary options in the pen, but don't count out veteran southpaw Oliver Perez as a matchup lefty option at some point this season.

When you look at the Indians' offense, you must focus on two names, which are the key motors that get things going. Those individuals are SS Francisco Lindor and 3B Jose Ramirez, as both continue to get better from one season to the next. Not only are both high average threats who can steal bases, but both have 30 plus homer potential giving Cleveland a nice one-two punch near the middle of their lineup.

Carlos Santana is back for year two of his second go-around with Cleveland and is undoubtedly a leadoff candidate this season, given his high contact approach at the plate. Another option for the leadoff spot would-be off-season acquisition Delino DeShields Jr who comes over from Texas, bringing great speed with him and will most likely patrol CF this season.

Speaking of OF, that is where the most transformation happened on the Indians roster this offseason as all three OF spots could see new faces this year. With DeShields set to take over CF, Jordan Luplow appears to be the favorite in left with offseason pickup Franmil Reyes and returning Domingo Santana the favorites in RF. Whichever one of those loses out on the OF job will still find their name in the lineup as both Reyes and Santana will fit well as a DH.

While the Indians may not be the talented team they once were three years ago, they still have one of the better managers in the game in Terry Francona running the show, so I will never count them out quite yet. I pegged them as the second-best team heading into the season, and I still feel that way, but the gap will be much smaller as a shortened season will make things interesting.

Prediction 3-1: I like the Cubs taking the series 3-1 with a chance at a possible 4-0 mark depending on how rotations line up. I usually will never pick a team to sweep anyone during the season, and I am not going to do that here. With Clevinger and Bieber anchoring the Indians rotation should the Cubs match up with one or both of those men at any point this season, I would give Cleveland a slight advantage in those games.

Offensively, Cleveland can still be a dangerous team, especially if Lindor and Ramirez are rolling offensively. Keep them at bay and keep Lindor off the bases, and this team becomes much easier to defend. This is one of those rivalries that I would like to see played more than once every three years, especially since that World Series concluded.

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