Drought will end as Cubs, Indians clash in Fall Classic
The 2016 MLB postseason has not disappointed, as fans have been treated to exciting division and championship series match-ups thus far. However, this year’s Fall Classic will likely take the cake, with two teams that haven’t won a World Series in nearly 70 years facing off: the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians.
Despite winning the American League Central division by a landslide, the Indians endured a great deal of turmoil to make it this far. As a team that survived primarily of off its stellar starting rotation for most of 2016, things began looking grim for Cleveland towards the end of the season, even though it was clear they would take their division with ease. They lost Danny Salazar (11-6, 3.87 ERA) and Carlos Carrasco (11-8, 3.32 ERA) — two of their best starting pitchers — within a week of each other. The Indians then received another scare when their ace, Corey Kluber (18-9, 3.14 ERA), suffered a quad strain towards the end of the season. He missed the final week of the season and was questionable for the playoffs, but Kluber managed to recover in time for Game 2 of the American League Division Series against the Red Sox.
With Cleveland’s depleted pitching staff facing a juggernaut offense, Boston was favored to advance to the American League Championship Series. However, the Indians’ starting staff was just good enough — highlighted by Kluber’s 6 1/3 shutout frames in Game 2 — and once they managed to get the ball to lefty reliever Andrew Miller, the Sox were as good as finished. Indians closer Cody Allen also shined during the series.
The Indians faced a tougher challenge for the ALCS in the Blue Jays, who were heavily favored over Cleveland as well. Cleveland also received more bad news on the starting pitching front prior to the series: Trevor Bauer sliced his finger in a freak accident while he was building a drone. That resulted in a grotesque scene during Bauer’s start in Game 3, when he had to be lifted in the first inning because there was blood visibly dripping from his finger and onto the baseball and his uniform. However, the Indians still managed to take that game thanks to some great bullpen work, and that bullpen is primarily what pushed them past Toronto and onto the World Series. Even though Cleveland scored just 12 runs across five games during the ALCS, it was more than enough for the pitching staff, particularly the ALCS MVP Miller.
Although it seems as if the Cubs have the better team on paper, their series leading up to the Fall Classic were a bit more interesting. They first took down the Giants and broke their streak of winning the World Series in even years at three; clutch hitting from young players such as Javier Baez and Willson Contreras was essential for Chicago in the series. It appeared that the Giants, down two games to none in Game 3, would keep their even-year magic going when they mounted a comeback against flame-throwing Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman before winning in extra innings. However, the Cubs gave the Giants a taste of their own medicine in Game 4, rallying for four runs in the ninth inning, including Baez’s go-ahead single.
The National League Championship Series against the Dodgers got off to an exciting start, with the Cubs taking the first game thanks to Miguel Montero’s pinch-hit, go-ahead grand slam in the eighth inning. The Dodgers then shut out Chicago for the next two games behind stellar starts from Clayton Kershaw (12-4, 1.69 ERA) and Rich Hill (12-5, 2.12 ERA). However, the Cubs turned up their offense and won the final three games 10-2, 8-4, and 5-0 to propel themselves to the World Series. Baez and lefty Jon Lester (19-5, 2.44 ERA) shared the NLCS MVP honors.
While it seems like the Indians’ dwindling pitching staff wouldn’t stand a chance against an offensive force such as the Cubs, that was the same story in the ALDS and ALCS, in which Cleveland took down its opponents with ease. It’s also worth noting Chicago’s offense was relatively lackluster this postseason prior to Game 4 of the NLCS, so they’ll need to take that momentum with them into the World Series.
The Indians might be getting some help for their rotation in the Fall Classic: if he throws well in a simulated game prior to the series, Salazar could return to Cleveland’s rotation, or at least fill a bullpen role.
However, the Cubs could be getting a star back as well. Kyle Schwarber, who missed most of 2016 with a torn ACL, is currently playing in the Arizona Fall League. If he proves he can hit even a little, the Cubs could bring him in as a designated hitter for the games at Cleveland’s Progressive Field, an American League park.
Regardless of who takes the series, one of the longest championship droughts in sports history will be over. While the last time the Indians reached the Fall Classic in 1997, they haven’t won the series since 1948. Meanwhile, the Cubs, of course, maintain the longest championship drought in the history of professional sports: they haven’t reached the World Series since 1945, and haven’t won since 1908. With that kind of history on the line, 2016’s Fall Classic will likely be one for the ages.