178 combined years of World Series drought, Cubs and Indians look to accomplish the impossible
It’s finally going to happen. Either the Cleveland Indians or the Chicago Cubs are going to win this year’s World Series, ending one of the two longest active World Series championship droughts.
The Indians won their last World Series in 1948 and made their last appearance in the Fall Classic in ‘97 — a seven-game series that will forever be remembered for closer Jose Mesa’s blown save. Ironically enough, the 2016 Indians have rode their lights-out bullpen, led by ALCS MVP Andrew Miller, all October and to seven wins in eight postseason games against the high-powered Red Sox and Blue Jays.
The Cubs finally exorcized their National League pennant demons, beating the pesky Dodgers in six games, and earning their first World Series trip since 1945. The Cubs were hands down the best team in baseball during the regular season, winning 103 games and showing few, if any, flaws. But the Cubs aren’t simply happy to be here. No, Joe Maddon’s team is looking to erase 108 years of “Wait ’til next year” by winning the franchise’s first World Series title since 1908.
Chicago Cubs vs. Cleveland Indians
(All games are on FOX at 8 p.m. ET)
|1||Tues., Oct. 25||Jon Lester vs. Corey Kluber||Progressive Field, Cleveland|
|2||Wed., Oct. 26||TBD vs. TBD||Progressive Field, Cleveland|
|3||Fri., Oct. 28||TBD vs. TBD||Wrigley Field, Chicago|
|4||Sat., Oct. 29||TBD vs. TBD||Wrigley Field, Chicago|
|5*||Sun., Oct. 30||TBD vs. TBD||Wrigley Field, Chicago|
|6*||Tues., Nov. 1||TBD vs. TBD||Progressive Field, Cleveland|
|7*||Wed., Nov. 2||TBD vs. TBD||Progressive Field, Cleveland|
Three Things to Watch
1. Former Yankee Super Relievers
Both the Indians and the Cubs made the pre-deadline moves to make their bullpens better, paying the heavy prospect prices for two of the game’s very best relievers — the Yankees’ Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman.
The Indians acquired the left-handed Miller on July 31, shipping four prospects to the Yankees. Since the move, and even prior to it, Miller has put together arguably his best season as a pro, posting a microscopic 1.45 ERA, 0.686 WHIP, and a remarkable 14.9 strikeouts per nine innings. But Miller has saved his best for the postseason. Miller has been practically unhittable, only allowing just seven hitters to reach (five hits, two walks), no runs and 21 strikeouts in six relief appearances. But Miller’s best weapon may not be his wipeout slider or rising fastball, but rather his versatility. In each of his six appearances this October, manager Terry Francona has used Miller for multiple innings each outing, giving the banged-up Cleveland starting rotation a much-needed crutch. The Cubs’ lineup tends to struggle against top-tier, left-handed pitching (Game 6 vs. Clayton Kershaw being the exception), so having Miller on the mound in the late innings gives the Tribe a great advantage in this series.
Six days before Miller was dealt to Cleveland, Cubs’ president Theo Epstein sent three valuable prospects and pitcher Adam Warren to the Bronx for Chapman, the Cuban flamethrower. In his 28 regular season appearances for Chicago, Chapman posted a minuscule 1.01 ERA, 0.82 FIP, and an outstanding 15.5 strikeouts per nine innings. But since the start of the postseason, Chapman hasn’t been as dominant, as Joe Maddon has used Chapman in some uncomfortable, non-save and/or multiple-out situations. His postseason ERA has inflated to 3.86 and his control has been less than ideal. But for the postseason jitters, Chapman showed up when it counted the most, namely striking out the side to close out the Giants in Game 4 of the NLDS, and inducing the pennant-winning double play against the Dodgers in Game 6 of the NLCS.
2. Salazar and Schwarber
The Indians’ pitching staff wasn’t supposed to dominate the best offense in baseball, but the Tribe were able to hold the Red Sox to four runs or fewer for three straight games, something no other team did in 2016 against Boston’s bats. Then came the free-swinging, red-hot Blue Jays’ offense in the ALCS — no problem, four wins in five games — and all without starting rotation fixtures Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar.
Carrasco hasn’t pitched since mid-September after breaking his hand, and won’t be able to throw for another six weeks — so he’s out. Salazar hasn’t pitched since Sept. 8 after straining his forearm, but after throwing a simulated game this weekend he could be back in the Cleveland rotation and be a viable No. 2 option behind ace Corey Kluber. If Salazar is capable, he would be adding much-needed depth to an exceptionally thin Cleveland rotation, especially with starter Trevor Bauer still dealing with a sliced finger on his pitching hand.
For the Cubs, second-year catcher/outfielder Kyle Schwarber has been in an MLB lineup since April 7 when he tore his ACL and LCL after an outfield collision with Dexter Fowler at Chase Field in Arizona. But months of relentless rehab has allowed Schwarber to be cleared to return to action and he was activated by the Cubs from the 60-day disabled list and sent to the Arizona Fall League this past weekend. This opens up the remote possibility that the big left-handed bat could be added to the World Series roster to be used as a designated hitter for the games in Cleveland and as a pinch-hitter for Maddon at home. Don’t forget Schwarber set a franchise record with five home runs in the 2015 postseason, so he’s no stranger to coming up big in October. With the struggling Jason Heyward moving in and out of the lineup, Schwarber, if he’s able, would at least provide Maddon with another option to keep Terry Francona guessing and perhaps overusing a bullpen he has already leaned heavily on.
3. Shortstop Superstars
The Cubs and Indians have more than just World Series droughts in common. Both have elite, 22-year-old, budding superstar shortstops that fans are going to be very familiar with by the time this series is over.
Chicago’s Addison Russell struggled out of the gate this postseason, posting just one hit in 16 plate appearances against the Giants in the NLDS. But he exploded in the NLCS, hitting two home runs against the Dodgers, including the go-ahead, two-run shot in Game 5. “Addy” has not only been getting the job done at the plate in just his second season, (21 HR, 95 RBI,.738 OPS) but he has proven to be one of the game’s best defenders, tying for the MLB lead in defensive runs saved (19, Brandon Crawford), and for third in ultimate zone rating (15.4) at shortstop, according to FanGraphs.
As great as Russell has been in the field, Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor has been just as impressive, ranking second in ultimate zone rating (20.8) and third in defensive runs saved (17). Lindor also has shown himself to be a quick study at the plate in his first full big league season, hitting .301 with 15 HR, 30 doubles and a .794 OPS. So far this October, Lindor has one-upped himself with a .363 average, .924 OPS and 18 total bases in eight games. He has two home runs, including a two-run shot that provided all of the offense in the Indians’ ALCS Game 1 win.
Watching these two young studs play such vital roles for contending teams is a big boost for baseball, and if they were smart, MLB would be wise to promote the heck out of both Russell and Lindor this World Series as a few of its future stars that will shape the game moving forward.
I’ve got a feeling that this could go down as one of the best World Series that we’ve seen in a long, long time. The obvious storylines of downtrodden fan bases, curses and droughts are obviously going to be prevalent and looming all series long, but the matchup between these two teams is fascinating — and it starts with the managers, two of the game’s very best. The chess match between Chicago’s Joe Maddon and Cleveland’s Terry Francona inning by inning could be the deciding factor in a series that could go the distance.
The Indians have proven that they have the lineup and bullpen that can go toe-to-toe with the AL’s very best, but these young Cubs have too many ways they can beat you. Whether it’s a lights-out pitching performance from one of the team’s Cy Young candidates in Jon Lester or Kyle Hendricks, the long ball with MVP front-runners Kris Bryant or Anthony Rizzo, or one of the young up-and-comers like Javier Baez or Willson Contreras — the Cubs were built for this — curses be damned.
Prediction: Cubs in 6
— Written by Jake Rose, an avid baseball fan who also is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.